A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish 6th - VSIP.INFO (2023)

A New Reference

Grammar of Modern


A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish is a comprehensive, cohesive and clear guide to the forms and structures of Spanish as it is written and spoken today in Spain and Latin America. It includes clear descriptions of all the main grammatical phenomena of Spanish, and their use, illustrated by numerous examples of contemporary Spanish, both Peninsular and Latin-American, formal and informal. Fully revised and updated, the sixth edition is even more relevant to students and teachers of Spanish. The sixth edition includes: •  new chapters, providing more detail and examples of key areas of Spanish grammar; • an increased number of Mexican examples to reflect the growing interest in this country’s variety of Spanish; •  new information for readers studying Spanish and French together; •  a glossary of grammatical terms including English translations of Spanish terms. The combination of reference grammar and manual of current usage is invaluable for learners at level B2–C2 of the Common European Framework for Languages, and Intermediate High– Advanced High on the ACTFL proficiency scales. John Butt is Emeritus Professor of Hispanic Studies of King’s College London, UK. He studied Spanish, French and Portuguese at the University of Cambridge and went on to lecture in Spanish literature and language at King’s College London for 37 years. Carmen Benjamin, a native speaker of Spanish, taught Spanish at King’s College London, UK. Antonia Moreira Rodríguez, also a native speaker of Spanish, teaches Spanish language and linguistics in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin-American Studies of King’s College London, UK.

ROUTLEDGE REFERENCE GRAMMARS A Reference Grammar of Modern Italian, Second Edition Edited by Martin Maiden and Cecilia Robustelli French Grammar and Usage, Fourth Edition Edited by Roger Hawkins and Richard Towell Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage, Sixth Edition Martin Durrell A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish, Sixth Edition John B. Butt, Carmen Benjamin and Antonia Moreira-Rodríguez For more information about the Routledge Reference Grammars series, please visit: www.routledge.com/Routledge-Reference-Grammars/book-series/RRG Routledge Reference Grammars can be used alone or with companion workbooks from the Practising Grammar Workbooks series: Practising Italian Grammar: A Workbook Alessia Bianchi, Clelia Boscolo and Stephen Harrison Practising Spanish Grammar, Third Edition Angela Howkins, Christopher Pountain and Teresa de Carlos Practising French Grammar: A Workbook, Fourth Edition Roger Hawkins, Marie-Noëlle Lamy and Richard Towell Practising German Grammar, Fourth Edition Martin Durrell, Katrin Kohl and Claudia Kaiser For more information about the Practising Grammar Workbooks series, please visit: https://www.routledge.com/Practising-Grammar-Workbooks/book-series/PGW

A New Reference

Grammar of Modern

SPANISH Sixth Edition John Butt, Carmen Benjamin and Antonia Moreira Rodríguez

Sixth edition published 2019 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2019 John Butt, Carmen Benjamin and Antonia Moreira Rodríguez The right of John Butt, Carmen Benjamin and Antonia Moreira Rodríguez to be identified as authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. First edition published by E. Arnold 1988 Fifth edition published by Hodder Education 2011, Routledge 2013 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Butt, John, 1943- author. | Benjamin, Carmen, author. | Rodrâiguez, Antonia Moreira, author. Title: A new reference grammar of modern Spanish / John Butt, Carmen Benjamin and Antonia Moreira Rodrâiguez. Description: 6th edition. | London ; New York : Routledge, 2019. | Series: Routledge Reference Grammars | Includes bibliographical references and indexes. Identifiers: LCCN 2018023122| ISBN 9781138124004 (hbk) | ISBN 9781138124011 (pbk) | ISBN 9781315648446 (ebk) Subjects: LCSH: Spanish language–Grammar. | Spanish language–Textbooks for foreign speakers--English Classification: LCC PC4112 .B88 2019 | DDC 468.2/421–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018023122 ISBN: 978-1-138-12400-4 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-138-12401-1 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-64844-6 (ebk) Typeset in Palatino Roman by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Stockport, Cheshire

Contents Preface to the Sixth Edition Abbreviations and conventions 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42

Gender of nouns Plural of nouns The definite article The indefinite article Adjectives Comparison of adjectives and adverbs Demonstrative adjectives and pronouns Neuter article and neuter pronouns Possessive adjectives and pronouns Miscellaneous adjectives and pronouns Numerals Personal pronouns, subject Personal pronouns used with prepositions Personal pronouns, object Le/les and lo/la/los/las Forms of Spanish verbs Use of indicative (non-continuous) verb tenses Use of indicative (non-continuous) compound tenses Continuous forms of verbs The subjunctive The imperative The infinitive Participles The gerund Auxiliary verbs Personal a Negation Questions and exclamations Conditional sentences Pronominal verbs Verbs of becoming Passive and impersonal sentences Ser and estar ‘There is’, ‘there are’, ‘there was’, ‘there were’, etc. Adverbs Expressions of time Conjunctions and discourse markers Prepositions Relative clauses and relative pronouns Nominalizers Cleft sentences Word order

vii ix 1 19 30 45 53 74 85 90 97 104 122 134 140 143 159 170 204 224 234 242 281 291 303 308 319 328 335 347 356 364 393 398 415 424 429 449 462 480 515 529 533 538

vi Contents 43 Diminutive, augmentative and pejorative suffixes 44 Spelling, accent rules, punctuation and word division

552 560

Glossary of grammatical terms Bibliography and sources Index of English words Index of grammatical points and Spanish words

576 588 591 594

Preface to the Sixth Edition This new edition of Butt and Benjamin, now Butt, Benjamin and Moreira, differs in several ways from earlier versions. • We have created some new chapters with the result that section numbers have changed and the Index has been re-written. • We have added a large number of Mexican examples since Mexico is by far the most populous Spanish-speaking country and its language is of special interest to North-American readers. • We have thoroughly revised the whole text, clarified it where we found it unclear, simplified it where it was complicated, re-written or expanded it where we had new ideas or new information, and corrected it where we thought the original was misleading or inaccurate. • We have included new information for readers who are studying Spanish and French together, this combination being especially widespread in the UK. • We have marked as Important points that in our experience cause problems for Englishspeaking students, but this does not mean that the other notes should be neglected. • The Glossary includes Spanish translations of grammatical terms. Any grammar or dictionary of Spanish that aspires to be comprehensive must face the problem of the international variety of the language, a problem that is much less serious in other widelystudied European languages like French, German and Italian. English has basically only two internationally recognized standards: American and ‘received’ British. No one would or should suggest that the varieties of other places like Australia, New Zealand, South-Africa, the Caribbean or India are ‘bad’ English, but there seems to be a more or less tacit agreement that foreigners should learn either American or ‘received’ British usage (in practice the language of the middle and upper classes of south-east England and of those who speak like them). There are however no universally recognized international standards in Spanish, which differs in detail between the twenty-one countries where it is the official, or the main official, language. Despite the claims one hears to the contrary, none of these different varieties is accepted as a model to be followed by the others. It is not easy to define how much these varieties differ from one another. People who know only one variety of Spanish can usually read texts and understand films and broadcasts from other Spanish-speaking countries without noticing more than a few obvious peculiarities, especially when the material is intended for international audiences. On the other hand, local Spanish language can cause problems for outsiders, and not just for people from Spain. El País Semanal of 10 May 2015 describes how the late Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco met blank incomprehension when he asked the receptionist in a Madrid hotel for ‘un plomero para componer la llave de la tina’ (‘a plumber to fix the bath tap/faucet’); a Spaniard would have said ‘un fontanero para reparar el grifo de la bañera’. Fortunately, these misunderstandings mainly affect vocabulary. The syntax of Pacheco’s question is perfectly ‘standard’, and as far as grammar is concerned the differences between regions and countries are not striking. Spanish is still very much one language. In order to make this book as useful as possible to students of all the varieties of Spanish, we have selected the Latin-American content in line with the policy of previous editions of this book

viii Preface to the Sixth Edition of quoting examples which, unless otherwise stated, are also good European Spanish and therefore worthy of imitation by readers studying the language of Spain as well as of Latin America. We usually in fact include Latin-American examples that show that their language is the same as that of Spain and that their syntax is therefore presumably acceptable everywhere or almost everywhere. However, we cannot guarantee that all our examples of European Spanish are good LatinAmerican Spanish, particularly as far as their vocabulary is concerned. Translating the Spanish of Spain into ‘Latin-American Spanish’ is often impossible because there is no single ‘LatinAmerican Spanish’. To cite one well-known example, ‘pavement’/‘sidewalk’ is la acera in Spain and some parts of Latin America, la vereda in the Southern Cone, el andén in Colombia, la banqueta in Mexico and, according to the dictionaries, la orilla in some other American republics, and there may be other regional words that we do not know. As far as the language of the examples is concerned, we have tried to confine ourselves to plain everyday Spanish prose that can loosely be described as ‘educated informal’. However, we include a good deal of information about popular Spanish syntax since learners are bound to encounter it in films, novels and everyday conversation and they will need to know about whether to imitate it or not. The dividing line between syntax and lexicon is blurred in any language, and this book contains a number of points that are really more appropriate for a dictionary than for a grammar book. But lack of space prevents us from competing with dictionaries when it comes to defining meanings, so when in doubt readers should check our translations – particularly those of individual words– in a good Spanish-English dictionary. The difference between British and American English has also sometimes caused us some anxiety, and we hope that our British dialect will not cause too much trouble across the Atlantic. We sometimes supply American equivalents of our British English where we think that the latter may cause confusion, for example ‘torch’/US ‘flashlight’, ‘potato crisps’/US ‘chips’, but we have not been systematic about this because we are not fluent in American English. We also hope that American readers will forgive our spellings such as ‘colour’, ‘neighbour’, ‘centre’, ‘metre’, ‘defence’, ‘traveller’, ‘cancelled’, ‘to fulfil’, ‘to practise’ (the noun in Britain is ‘practice’), ‘preterite’ and other British forms. Carmen Benjamin has retired from the fray after many years of hard labour on the previous editions and Antonia Moreira has brought a fresh pair of eyes and ears to the project and made countless valuable suggestions. We are especially grateful to Mikko Takala, whose computer wizardry more than once rescued us in moments of frustration. We again offer our heartfelt thanks to the many persons, English-speaking and Spanish-speaking, who have contributed to this book over the years – and particularly to Carmen Benjamin – but as always the authors alone are responsible for any errors or omissions. John Butt Antonia Moreira Rodríguez London UK, 2018

Abbreviations and conventions NGLE: Nueva gramática de la lengua española, 2 vols, Real Academia Española (Madrid 2009). A third volume on phonetics and phonology appeared in 2011. GDLE: Gramática descriptiva de la lengua española, Ignacio Bosque and Violeta Demonte eds, 3 vols, Real Academia Española (Madrid 1999) DPD: Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, Real Academia Española (Madrid 2005) Esbozo: Esbozo de una nueva gramática de la lengua española, 13th edition, Real Academia Española (Madrid 1991) CORPES: Real Academia Española: Banco de datos (CORPES) [en línea].Corpus del español del siglo XXI. http://www.rae.es CREA: Real Academia Española: Banco de datos (CREA.Versión anotada) [en línea].Corpus de referencia del español actual http://www.rae.es Arg. Argentina Bol. Bolivia Col. Colombia CR Costa Rica Ch. Chile Cu. Cuba

Dom. Rep. Dominican Republic Ec. Ecuador ES El Salvador Guat. Guatemala

Hon. Honduras Mex. Mexico Nic. Nicaragua Pan. Panama Par. Paraguay Pe. Peru

PR Puerto Rico Sp. Spain Ur. Uruguay Ven. Venezuela

Lat. Am. Latin America(n) S. Cone: Southern Cone (Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay) (f.), (fem.) feminine lit. literally (m.), (masc.) masculine n: any number, as in ‘n days’, dentro de n días plur. plural sing. singular / indicates alternatives with the same or very similar meaning, e.g. en vano/en balde ‘in vain’, yo no sabía que fuera/fuese verdad ‘I didn’t know it was true’, or alternatives that are possible translations, e.g. su libro = ‘her/his/your/their book’, ‘I went’ = fui/iba/he ido. One or more asterisks before an example show that it is badly formed and should be avoided, e.g. *produció (for produjo), **el mujer. A preceding question mark shows that the form is controversial or doubtful: ?se los dije, ?habían muchos alumnos. Bracketed items in unattributed quotations can be deleted without a significant change of meaning, as in debe (de) ser el cartero ‘it must be the postman’. ‘Colloquial’ refers to language that is acceptable in relaxed educated speech but avoided in formal situations. ‘Familiar’ describes language that may be heard even from educated speakers in informal situations but should be used cautiously by non-fluent foreigners. ‘Popular’ describes forms that some speakers may reject as ‘uneducated’ and which foreign learners should avoid.

x Abbreviations and conventions ‘Dialogue’ shows that the words quoted are spoken by fictional characters whose opinions and language, which are sometimes comical, sexist or in some other way outrageous, should not be attributed to their author. We use the term ‘Latin America(n)’ rather than ‘Spanish America(n)’ since it should be obvious that we are not referring to Brazil or to the French-speaking territories, and because the term ‘Spanish American’ potentially annoys Latin Americans as much as ‘British American’ would no doubt irritate Americans and Canadians. The spelling of Spanish words reflects the Spanish Academy’s latest recommendations, especially noticeable in such words as guion for guión, rio for rió, crie for crié, etc. (see 44.2.4). In the case of unresolved disputes, e.g. whether one should write an accent on the pronouns este/éste, ese/ése and aquel/aquél and on the adverb solo/sólo, we show both forms but recommend the Academy’s advice, which is to omit the accent. On hearing, out of context, a verb form like habla ‘she/he/you/it speak(s)’, Spanish-speakers do not automatically form a mental image of a male grammatical subject. For this reason we translate such forms by ‘(s)he speaks’ even though the other possibilities − ‘you speak’ (usted) and ‘it speaks’ − are not usually shown. If only ‘she’ or ‘he’ appears in the translation of an attributed example this reflects the gender of the character in the original text. When a third-person plural verb appears without a pronoun, e.g. reciben ‘they receive’, it must be remembered that the translation could also be ‘you receive’ (ustedes reciben) if the meaning of the sentence or phrase allows it.

Phonetic Symbols Spanish pronunciation is roughly indicated as follows. Previous editions adopted the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), but some IPA signs were confusing for students: Symbol Phonetic description Remarks β voiced bilabial fricative Air released steadily through lips held as for   English b χ voiceless velar fricative Like ch of German lachen or of Scottish ‘loch’ γ voiced velar fricative Air released steadily through the throat held as   for English g in ‘ago’ θ voiceless interdental fricative Like th of ‘think’ ð voiced interdental fricative Like th of ‘this’ ʎ voiced palatal lateral Palatalized l, as in Spanish llamo. Tongue flat   against roof of mouth ñ voiced palatal nasal Like gn in French cognac. Tongue flat against   roof of mouth (IPA ɲ) ŋ voiced velar nasal Like ng in American and Southern British ‘sing’   (not as in ‘finger’) ɾ voiced alveolar tap or flap r pronounced with a single flap of the tongue as   in Spanish caro rr voiced alveolar trill Rolled r as in Spanish carro (IPA r) y voiced palatal approximant Like y in ‘yes’ (IPA j) ch voiceless palatal stop Like ch in ‘mischief’ (IPA tʃ) A dash separates syllables and the stressed syllable is marked with an accent: [a-βlá-mos] = ­hablamos; see 44.5.

Abbreviations and conventions


[aw] is like the ‘ow’ in English ‘cow’; [ay] is like the ‘i’ in English ‘high’; [ey] is like the ‘ay’ in ‘hay’; [oy] is like the ‘oy’ of ‘boy’; [ew] is like the ‘e’ of ‘egg’ followed by ‘w’; [w] is the English ‘w’ but with well-rounded lips. Other signs should be given their usual Spanish pronunciation. [ñ] must be distinguished in pronunciation from [ny] as in words like uranio [u-ɾá-nyo] ‘uranium’ and huraño [u-ɾá-ño] ‘grumpy’/‘unsociable’. [ʎ] must be distinguished from [ly] in words like pollo [pó-ʎo] ‘chicken’ (for cooking) and polio [pó-lyo] ‘polio’ (the disease).

1 Gender of nouns The main points discussed in this chapter are • • • • •

Gender of nouns referring to humans and some animals (Section 1.2) Gender of nouns referring to lifeless things, plants and other animals (Section 1.3) The gender of foreign words (Section 1.3.12) Doubtful genders (Section 1.3.15) Misleading genders of some French nouns (Section 1.4)

1.1 Gender of nouns: general Spanish nouns are either masculine or feminine except for a few nouns of undecided gender listed at 1.3.15. The whole question of the gender of Spanish nouns becomes clearer if we divide them into two groups: (A) Nouns that refer to human beings and to a few well-known animals: Section 1.2. (B) Nouns that refer to lifeless things, to plants and to the animals not included in group A: Section 1.3.

1.2 Group A: gender of nouns referring to human beings and to a few animals As one might expect, nouns that denote males are masculine, and nouns referring to females are feminine, so el hombre ‘man’, la mujer ‘woman’, el toro ‘bull’, la vaca ‘cow’. This rule applies to almost all human beings but only to a few animals, many of them listed in 1.2.1. The gender of other animals is discussed at 1.3.1. The gender of the nouns in group A is more logical in Spanish than in French, where the masculine noun le professeur can refer to a woman. Forms like la recluta ‘recruit’, la centinela ‘sentry’ were applied to men in the past, but we now say el recluta, el centinela for a man and la recluta, la centinela for a woman. Exceptions: a few nouns of fixed gender like la víctima or la celebridad may refer to males or to females: see 1.2.11 for a list. (1) Note that usually the plural masculine form of these nouns is used for mixed sex groups: los gatos = ‘cats’ as well as ‘tom cats’, mis tíos = ‘my aunt(s) and uncle(s)’ as well as ‘my uncles’, los padres = ‘parents’ as well as ‘fathers’. See 1.2.8.

1.2.1 Special forms for male and female As in English, some nouns have special forms for the male and for the female and they must be learned separately. The following list is not exhaustive: el abad/la abadesa abbot/abbess el actor/la actriz actor/actress

el barón/la baronesa baron/baroness el caballo/la yegua stallion/mare

2 Gender of nouns el león/la leona lion/lioness el carnero/la oveja* ram/ewe (or sheep) el conde/la condesa count/countess el duque/la duquesa duke/duchess el elefante/la elefanta elephant el emperador/la emperatriz emperor/empress el gallo/la gallina* cockerel/hen (or chicken) el héroe/la heroína hero/heroine (or heroin) el hombre/la mujer man (see note 2) el jabalí/la jabalina wild boar

el marido/la mujer husband/wife (or woman) el padre/la madre father/mother el príncipe/la princesa prince/princess el rey/la reina king/queen el sacerdote/la sacerdotisa priest/priestess el toro/la vaca* bull/cow el varón (human) or el macho (animals)/la   hembra male/female el yerno/la nuera son/daughter-in-law (la   yerna is heard in parts of Lat. America)

(1)  Asterisks mark a feminine form which is also used for the species, e.g. las ovejas = ‘sheep’ as well as ‘ewes’. Usually the masculine plural is used for the species. See 1.2.8. (2)  In Latin America ‘wife’ is la esposa and ‘woman’ is la mujer. In Spain la mujer means both things and la esposa is formal and polite, and El País of Spain encourages its use for ‘wife’. An unmarried partner is la pareja (for either sex) or el compañero/la compañera. For more on la pareja see 1.2.11. (3)  Papá and mamá are constantly used in Latin America for ‘father’ and ‘mother’ even in quite formal speech. The words padre and, especially, madre have become somewhat discredited in Latin America, particularly in Mexico, where padre is a colloquial adjective meaning ‘fantastic’/‘great’ and madre has many not very respectable uses which should be sought in a dictionary.

1.2.2  Feminine of nouns in group A ending in –o Nearly all of these make their feminine in -a: el abuelo/la abuela grandfather/grandmother el burro/la burra donkey el amigo/la amiga friend el candidato/la candidata candidate el cerdo/la cerda pig/sow (Spain) el chancho/la chancha pig/sow (Lat. Am.) el ciervo/la cierva deer/doe el ganso/la gansa gander/goose el gato/la gata cat/she-cat el hermano/la hermana brother/sister

el lobo/la loba wolf /she-wolf el médico/la médica doctor el novio/la novia boyfriend/girlfriend, also    ‘groom’ and ‘bride’ el oso/la osa bear/she-bear el pato/la pata duck el pavo/la pava turkey el perro/la perra dog/bitch el tío/la tía uncle/aunt el zorro/la zorra fox/vixen

Exceptions: a few nouns ending in -o that refer to professions or activities do not have special feminine forms, so gender is shown by an article or adjective as in un soldado ‘a soldier’, una ­soldado ‘a female soldier’, modelos francesas ‘female French models’. Other examples: el/la árbitro (or la árbitra) referee el/la cabo corporal el/la miembro member (of a club, etc.) el/la piloto (rarely la pilota) pilot/racing driver

el/la reo accused (in court) el/la sargento sergeant (but see 1.2.7) el/la soprano soprano el/la testigo witness

1.2.3 Feminine of nouns in Group A whose masculine form ends in -or, -ón, -ín, -és, -án These add -a, and any accent written on the last vowel disappears: el asesor/la asesora adviser/consultant el burgués/la burguesa bourgeois

el campeón/la campeona champion el capitán/la capitana captain

1.2  Group A: gender of nouns referring to human beings and to a few animals

el doctor/la doctora doctor el anfitrión/la anfitriona host/hostess el león/la leona lion/lioness el bailarín/la bailarina dancer


el peatón/la peatona pedestrian el profesor/la profesora teacher (see note 1) el programador/la programadora programmer

For adjectives like cortés, preguntón, pillín see 5.2.1. (1)  El profesor/la profesora = ‘secondary school or university teacher’, el maestro/la maestra = ‘primary school-teacher’, although in Spain nowadays the fashion is to call all of them profesores/as. A British professor is un/una catedrático/a.

1.2.4  Feminine of nouns in Group A whose masculine form ends in a These do not change: el/la artista artist el/la astronauta astronaut el/la atleta athlete el/la brigada (roughly) warrant officer in the    Navy, Air Force or Civil Guard el/la cabecilla ringleader el/la colega colleague

el/la guardia policeman/woman. See note 2. el/la guía guide (la guía also = ‘guidebook’) el/la pianista pianist el/la policía policeman/woman   (la policía also = ‘police’). See note 2. el/la psiquiatra psychiatrist

(1)  El modisto for el modista ‘male fashion designer’ is heard in Spain: todo las separa . . . inclusolosmodistos (El Mundo, Sp.) ‘everything stands between them . . . even fashion designers’. The Academy (DPD, 441) accepts it but Seco and El País reject it. La modista also means ‘dressmaker’. (2)  In Spain guardias and policías are not the same. The Guardia Civil deals with rural policing, frontiers, etc. The Policía Nacional polices urban areas, and there are also municipal and regional police forces like the Basque Ertzaintza and the Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra. Latin-American ­republics may also have complex policing systems.

1.2.5  Feminine of nouns in Group A whose masculine ends in -nte The majority do not change: el/la adolescente adolescent el/la agente police officer/agent el/la amante lover el/la cantante singer

el/la representante representative el/la televidente TV viewer el/la teniente lieutenant el/la transeúnte passer-by

But a few feminine forms in -nta are in use, at least in Spain; they may be unacceptable in parts of Latin America: el asistente/la asistenta assistant, daily help el dependiente/la dependienta shop   assistant/US ‘sales clerk’ el principiante/la principianta beginner

el sirviente/la sirvienta servant el comediante/la comedianta comic actor el pariente/la parienta relative (la parienta   is also humorous for ‘wife’)

(1)  El/la asistente social ‘social worker’, la asistente social (the usual form) or la asistenta social for a woman. La asistenta is usual in Spain for ‘domestic help’.

4 Gender of nouns (2)  La presidente ‘president’ is found, but la presidenta is recommended by Seco (1998) and is now very widespread. (3)  Forms like *la estudianta for la estudiante are considered substandard, but a few popular nouns/ adjectives may form their feminine in -nta: el atorrante/la atorranta (Lat. Am.) ‘tramp’/‘slacker’/ US ‘bum’, dominanta ‘bossy’/‘pushy’ (applied to women). For la clienta see 1.2.7 note 1.

1.2.6 Feminine of other nouns in Group A whose masculine form ends in -e or in a consonant Apart from those mentioned in the preceding sections, these do not change: el/la alférez second   lieutenant el/la barman (Sp.) barman/   barmaid el/la cónyuge spouse

el/la enlace representative el/la intérprete interpreter el/la joven young man/   young woman el/la líder political leader*

el/la mártir martyr el/la rehén hostage el/la tigre (or la tigresa) tiger

Exceptions: el huésped/la huéspeda ‘guest’ (more usually la huésped, which the Academy recommends), el monje/la monja ‘monk’/‘nun’, el sastre/la sastra ‘tailor’. For la jefa see 1.2.7. (1)  *La lideresa is approved by the Academy for a female political leader, but most people say lalíder.

1.2.7  Feminine forms of nouns referring to professions As the social status of women improves, the stigma once attached to some feminine forms of professions is vanishing. The following should be noted: • El/la abogado ‘lawyer’. The form la abogada is now widely accepted, but it originally meant ‘intercessionary saint’. • La clienta ‘female customer’ is increasingly accepted, at least in Spain, but la cliente is also heard. • El/la jefe: la jefa is accepted by El País as the feminine of el/la jefe ‘boss’, but it sounds too familiar for some people. García Márquez (Col.) writes Maruja había sido . . . jefe de relaciones públicas ‘Maruja had been head of public relations’. • El/la juez ‘judge’ – the preferred form in Spain, Mexico and Peru: El País insists on la juez. Elsewhere in Latin America la jueza is not uncommon for a female judge. The Academy accepts la jueza and it is widespread in speech everywhere. • El médico ‘doctor’: la médica is normal in much of Latin America, cf. una médica blanca sudafricana (Granma, Cu.) ‘a white South-African female doctor’, but Emilia Saura, la médico sin hospital (AM, Mex.) ‘ES, the doctor without a hospital’. El País and the Academy approve of la médica and it is gaining ground though some people still considerate it slightly disrespectful. La doctora is polite alternative for a woman doctor. The Academy rejects la médico. • El/la miembro ‘member’ (of clubs), also el socio/la socia. The NGLE 2.9f approves of la miembro. • El/la ministro ‘minister’, but la ministra is usual nowadays. El País and the Academy recommend la primera ministra over la primer ministro ‘prime minister’ although it logically means ‘the first female minister’. • La poeta is now preferred to la poetisa ‘poetess’. • La política is accepted by the NGLE 2.6g for a female politician; it also means ‘politics’. La informática is a female IT expert; it also means ‘computing’.

1.2  Group A: gender of nouns referring to human beings and to a few animals


• La sacerdotisa is a possible feminine of el sacerdote ‘priest’, mainly used for ancient religions. The NGLE notes the increasing use of la sacerdote for female (i.e. non-Roman Catholic) priests. • La sargenta is used to mean a bad-tempered, fierce woman, so la sargento is a female sergeant. Other nouns ending in -o may be regular: el arquitecto/la arquitecta ‘architect’, el biólogo/la bióloga ‘biologist’, el catedrático/la catedrática ‘professor’ (European meaning), el filósofo/la filósofa ‘philosopher’, el letrado/la letrada ‘counsel’/‘legal representative’, el sociólogo/la socióloga ‘sociologist’, etc. Nevertheless, forms like la arquitecto, la filósofo, la letrado may be preferred in Spain. La magistrada ‘judge’ (higher in rank than a British magistrate) is now usual. (1)  Feminine forms are often used, even in educated speech, when the woman is not listening: ¿qué tal te llevas con la nueva jefa? ‘how are you getting on with your new woman boss?’, but me han dicho que usted es la jefe del departamento ‘they tell me that you are the head of the department’.

1.2.8  Nouns referring to mixed groups of males and females With the rare exceptions noted at 1.2.1, the masculine plural refers either to males or to both sexes, which confuses English-speakers. Mis hijos means ‘my sons’ or ‘my children’; mis hermanos means ‘my brothers’ or ‘my brother(s) and sister(s)’. The answer to ¿tienes hermanos? might be tengo dos hermanos y una hermana ‘I’ve got two brothers and one sister’. Likewise hoy vienen los padres de los niños ‘the children’s parents are coming today’. ‘The children’s fathers are coming’ would have to be clarified by vienen los padres de los niños—los padres solos = ‘the fathers on their own’. Further examples: los alumnos students/male students los ingleses the English/English men los niños children/little boys los perros dogs/male dogs

los primos cousins/male cousins los profesores teachers/male teachers los reyes the King and the Queen/kings/   the kings and queens

(1)  Feminine nouns refer to females only, so one uses the masculine in sentences like no tengo más amigos que mujeres ‘the only friends I have are women’ or todos los profesores son mujeres ‘all the teachers are women’. ?No tengo más amigas que mujeres means ‘the only women friends I have are women’! Tú eres la más inteligente de todos ‘you’re the most intelligent of all’ is a better compliment to a woman than . . .de todas since the feminine excludes males. But a sentence like María es la mejor profesora del instituto ‘Maria’s the best teacher in the school’ is ambiguous: it may or may not include males. Emilia Pardo Bazán es la mejor intérprete de la vida rural de toda la literatura española del siglo XIX ‘Emilia Pardo Bazán is the best interpreter of rural life in the whole of nineteenthcentury Spanish literature’ is assumed to mean that she is better than everybody. If ‘the best female interpreter’ were meant one would say intérprete femenina. (2)  Care must be taken with words like uno, otro. If a woman from Madrid says todos los madrileños me caen gordos ‘all Madrid people get on my nerves’ one could reply ¡pero tú eres uno de ellos! ‘but you’re one of them!’, but not * . . . una de ellos, since madrileños includes both males and females (¡pero tú también eres madrileña! avoids the problem). Compare also Ana es una de las profesoras ‘Ana is one of the women teachers’ and Ana es uno de los profesores ‘Ana is one of the teachers’. In a few cases, usage seems uncertain. A woman might say either unos están a favor y otros en contra. Yo soy de las que están a favor or . . . de los que están a favor ‘some are for, others are against. I’m one of those who are for it’. (3)  The fact that the masculine includes the feminine irritates some feminists since a phrase like oportunidades para alumnos de química ‘opportunities for students of chemistry’ does not clearly

6 Gender of nouns include females, so in notices and pamphlets one sometimes sees [emailprotected], [emailprotected], etc. [emailprotected] [emailprotected] is a gender-neutral (and unpronounceable) way of writing los alumnos y las alumnas ‘male and female students’. The Academy disapproves of this use of @.

1.2.9 Gender of nouns denoting non-living things when they are ­applied to humans Feminine nouns that usually apply to lifeless things can sometimes be applied to human males. In this case the noun acquires masculine gender: Applied to a male una bala perdida stray bullet una bestia wild beast la cabeza rapada shaved head la cámara camera la primera clase first class la superventa top sale la trompeta trumpet

un bala perdida ne’er-do-well/waster un bestia beast/brute/lunatic un cabeza rapada skinhead el cámara cameraman un primera clase someone first-class el superventa top seller el trompeta trumpet player

These feminine words can be applied to females: la trompeta = ‘trumpet’ or ‘female trumpet player’.

1.2.10  Gender of names applied across sex boundaries A female’s name applied to a male acquires masculine gender: tú eres un Margaret Thatcher ‘you’re a Margaret Thatcher’ (said to a man of his right-wing political ideas). But men’s names usually remain masculine: María, tú eres un Hitler con faldas ‘Maria, you’re a female Hitler’, lit. ‘Hitler with skirts’.

1.2.11  Nouns of invariable gender applied to either sex Some common words applied to human beings do not change their gender. One says el bebé está enfermo ‘the baby is ill’ whatever its sex, although la bebé or la bebe is nowadays commonly heard for baby girl: una bebé muere al recibir un fármaco prescrito a su madre (El País, Sp.) ‘baby girl dies after receiving drug prescribed for mother’ (la beba is heard in the Southern Cone). Some words of common gender are: el ángel angel una calamidad calamity una celebridad celebrity un cerebrín genius/‘brainy’ person un desastre disaster un esperpento fright/weird-looking person la estrella star (TV, etc.) un genio genius

un ligue date/casual boy or girlfriend una lumbrera genius la pareja unmarried partner. See note 2 la persona person el personaje character (in novels, etc.) una pesadilla nightmare (eres) un sol you’re wonderful/an angel la víctima victim

and a few other masculine nouns can be used to refer to women, most of them, involving sexual innuendo or comparisons with objects, cf. el pendón ‘trollop’/‘slut’ (lit. ‘pennant’, also la pendona), el marimacho ‘tomboy’, etc. (1) Titles like Alteza ‘Highness’, Excelencia, Ilustrísima ‘Grace’ (title of bishops) and Majestad ‘Majesty’ are feminine, but the person addressed keeps his/her gender: Su Majestad estará cansado

1.3 Group B: Gender of nouns referring to animals not­included under 1.2 and to lifeless things


(to a king), ‘Your Majesty must be tired’. This particularly applies to the phrase su señoría used in the Spanish parliaments to address other members of the two houses and for judges. (2)  La pareja is used even for a male partner, but note su pareja es español (El Periódico, Sp., 8-3-15) ‘her (male) partner is Spanish’. Compañero/compañera are also used for unmarried partners, ­sometimes clarified by adding sentimental, but pareja is becoming more common.

1.3 Group B: Gender of nouns referring to animals not­included under 1.2 and to lifeless things and toplants 1.3.1  Nouns referring to animals not included under 1.2.1–11 Nouns referring to most of the animals not included in the preceding sections are of fixed, arbitrary gender which must be learned separately. The gender of the noun has nothing to do with the sex of the animal: la araña spider la babosa slug la ballena whale el canguro kangaroo el chimpancé chimpanzee la cucaracha cockroach

el gorila gorilla la hormiga ant la mariposa butterfly el mirlo blackbird la mofeta/el zorrillo skunk la nutria otter

el panda panda el puma puma la rana frog el sapo toad la víbora viper la vicuña vicuna

and many others which will be found in good dictionaries. (1)  One can make an animal’s sex clear by adding macho ‘male’ or hembra ‘female’: la ardilla macho ‘male squirrel’, el cangrejo hembra ‘female crab’. In good Spanish, an adjective agrees with the gender of the noun not of the animal itself: la rana macho está muerta ‘the male frog is dead’, un cisne hembra blanco ‘a white female swan’. Macho and hembra are invariable: las cebras macho ‘male zebras’, los gavilanes hembra ‘female sparrowhawks. Familiar language may say things like el/la gorila ‘he-gorilla’ and ‘she-gorilla’ (properly ­invariably el gorila). (2)  La canguro (‘she-kangaroo’) is used in Spain for a female child-minder or baby-sitter.

1.3.2 Gender of nouns referring to non-living things, to plants and to other animals The gender of nouns referring to non-living things, to plants and to the animals mentioned in 1.3.1 must be learned for each noun. It has no sexual implications and it sometimes varies from place to place: cf. sauna ‘sauna’, feminine in Spain, either gender in Latin America; sartén ‘frying pan’/US ‘skillet’, feminine in Spain, often masculine in Latin America. The gender of some nouns also occasionally changes with time: cf. seventeenth-century la puente, now el puente ‘bridge’ (occasionally still la puente in some regions). El maratón and la maratón ‘marathon’ are both ­current nowadays: El País insists on el maratón. There are few infallible rules and we quote only those which in our view do not encourage false generalizations.

8 Gender of nouns

1.3.3  Masculine by meaning Some of these have acquired the gender of an underlying omitted noun: (a)  Rivers (el río): el Amazonas ‘the Amazon’, el Jarama, el Manzanares, el Sena ‘the Seine’, el Támesis ‘the Thames’, el Volga. Locally some rivers may be feminine, but outsiders rarely know this and the masculine is always correct. (b)  Mountains, oceans, seas and lakes (el monte, el océano, el mar, el lago): los Alpes, el Etna, el Everest, el Himalaya (singular), el Pacífico, el Caribe ‘Caribbean’, el Windermere. (c)  The names of cars, boats and aircraft (el coche, el barco, el avión): un Toyota, un Mercedes, el caza ‘fighter plane’, el Queen Elizabeth, el Marie Celeste, un DC10, un Mig-31. But small boats (la barca) are usually feminine, as are light aircraft because of the noun la avioneta: una Cessna. (d)  Months and days of the week (los meses y los días de la semana): enero/abril pasado, el lunes ‘Monday’, un viernes frío ‘a cold Friday’, etc. (e)  Wines (el vino): el Borgoña ‘Burgundy’, el Chianti, un Rioja, el champaña ‘champagne’, usually el champán in spoken Spanish, but la champaña in Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela. El cava is used to refer to champagne made in Spain. (f)  Pictures (el cuadro) by named artists: un Constable, un Leonardo, un Rembrandt, un Riley. (g)  Sports teams (el equipo): el Barça ‘Barcelona FC’ (pronounced [báɾ-sa]), el Betis (one of Seville’s soccer teams), el Real Madrid, etc. (h)  All infinitives, and all quoted words: el fumar ‘smoking’, el escupir ‘spitting’, ‘“mujer” es femenino ‘(the word) ‘“mujer” is feminine’, no viene la señal, el “siga” que él esperaba (EP, Mex.) ‘the signal doesn’t come, the “go on” that he was expecting’. (i)  Any adverb, interjection or other genderless word used as a noun: el más allá ‘the Beyond’, un algo ‘a “something”’, tiene un no sabe uno qué que gusta (LRS, Puerto Rico, dialogue) ‘she’s got something or other pleasing about her’. (j)  Numbers (el número): un seis, un 5, la Generación del 98 the ‘Generation of ’98’, el dos por ciento ‘two per cent’. (k)  Musical notes: el fa, el la (underlying noun unclear). (l)  Colours (el color): el azul ‘blue’, el ocre ‘ochre’; se amplía el naranja del horizonte ‘the orange of the horizon is spreading’ (AG, Sp.), mandaron instalar una alfombra verde aunque no hiciera juego con el rosa pálido de las paredes (ES, Mex.) ‘they had a green carpet laid even though it didn’t match the pale pink of the walls’. (m)  Certain trees (el árbol) whose fruit (la fruta) is feminine, e.g. el almendro/la almendra almond el avellano/la avellana hazel el castaño/la castaña chestnut el cerezo/la cereza cherry el ciruelo/la ciruela plum el granado/la granada pomegranate el guayabo/la guayaba guava

el guindo/la guinda morello cherry el mandarino/la mandarina tangerine el manzano/la manzana apple el naranjo/la naranja orange el nogal/la nuez walnut. See note 2 el papayo/la papaya papaya el peral/la pera pear

1.3 Group B: Gender of nouns referring to animals not­included under 1.2 and to lifeless things


(1)  Some fruits are masculine: el aguacate ‘avocado’ (la palta south of Ecuador), el albaricoque ‘apricot’, el higo ‘fig’, el limón ‘lemon’, el melón ‘melon’, etc. ‘A banana’ is una banana for most Latin Americans, but un plátano in some regions and in Spain. Plátano also means ‘plane-tree’ in Spain, so ‘banana tree’ is el plátano bananero. (2)  ’Nuts’ in general are los frutos secos. However, in Latin America las nueces can be used for‘nuts’, cf. cuando está comprando nueces, debe elegir los tipos más populares como almendras, manís,pacanas y nueces de nogal (Colombian cookery book) ‘when buying nuts you should choose the most popular kinds like almonds, peanuts, pecans and walnuts’. El maní = el cacahuete in Spain.

1.3.4  Masculine by form (a)  Nouns ending in -o are usually masculine: el colegio ‘school’, el libro ‘book’, el macro ‘macro’ (in computing), el resguardo ‘receipt’/‘payslip’ (e.g. from an ATM), el trampantojo ‘illusion’/‘trick’. There are a few exceptions, some of them important: la nao ship (archaic) la dinamo dynamo   (el dínamo in Lat. Am.) la disco disco la foto photo

la Gestapo the Gestapo la libido libido la magneto magneto   (frequently masc.)

la mano hand (dim. la manita   or la manito) la moto motorbike la polio polio

(b)  Words ending in -aje, -or, -án, -ambre or a stressed vowel: el equipaje luggage el paisaje landscape el calor heat el color colour el amor love

el sofá sofa/couch el paisaje landscape el azafrán crocus/saffron el desván attic el calambre spasm/cramp

el enjambre swarm Canadá (masc.) Canada el rubí ruby el champú shampoo el tisú tissue (e.g. Kleenex)

Exceptions: la flor ‘flower’, la labor ‘labour’. El hambre ‘hunger’ is also feminine: see 3.1.2 for an explanation of the el. Forms like la calor, la color for el calor ‘heat’ and el color ‘colour’ are heard in regional dialects. Pelambre ‘mop or tuft of hair’ is usually feminine, but sometimes masculine. (1) La radio ‘radio’ is feminine in Spain and in the Southern Cone, but in Mexico, Cuba, Central America and northern parts of South America it is usually, but not always, el radio. In some places el radio is ‘radio set’ and la radio is ‘radio station’. El radio also everywhere means ‘radius’ and ‘radium’. In García Márquez’s Noticia de un secuestro (Col., 1996) el radio and la radio are used for ‘radio’ with about equal frequency. (2) El porno is masculine even though it comes from la pornografía: detenido T., el rey del porno ­español (El Periódico, Sp.) ‘T., king of Spanish porn, arrested’.

1.3.5  Common masculine nouns ending in -a There is no rule in Spanish that says that nouns ending in -a must be feminine. Many nouns ending in -ma and several others ending in -a are masculine: (a)  Masculine nouns ending in -a (for masculine nouns ending in -ma see list b): el alerta alert (el alerta rojo ‘red alert’ or   la alerta)

el bocata familiar in Spain for ‘sandwich’/   ‘baguette’(el bocadillo)

10 Gender of nouns el burka burka el busca bleeper/pager el caza fighter plane el cólera cholera el cometa comet (la cometa = ‘kite’, the toy) el día day el ébola ebola (the disease) el escucha listening device/‘bug’ el extra extra payment el giga gig(abyte) el gorila gorilla el guardarropa cloakroom el Himalaya the Himalayas el insecticida insecticide (and all chemicals    ending in -icida) el karma karma el manga Manga comic

el mañana the morrow/tomorrow   (la mañana = ‘morning’) el lempira Honduran unit of currency el mapa map el mediodía noon el mega meg(abyte) el nirvana Nirvana el panda panda el planeta planet el Sáhara. See note 1. el telesilla ski-lift (but la silla ‘chair’) el tequila tequila (the Academy rejects   la tequila) el vodka vodka (rarely fem.) el tranvía tram/tramway el yoga yoga el zika zika (the mosquito-borne disease)

(b)  Masculine nouns ending in -ma The following words are masculine, in most cases because the Greek words they are derived from are of neuter gender. This list is not exhaustive: el (or la) anatema anathema el anagrama anagram el aroma aroma el cisma schism el clima climate el coma coma (la coma =   ‘comma’) el crisma holy oil (but te   rompo la crisma ‘I’ll knock    your block off!’) el crucigrama crossword el diagrama diagram el dilema dilemma el diploma diploma

el dogma dogma el drama drama el eccema/el eczema eczema el emblema emblem el enigma enigma el esquema scheme el estigma stigma el fantasma ghost el genoma genome el holograma hologram el lema slogan/watchword el magma magma el miasma miasma el panorama panorama

el pijama pyjamas (see note 2) el plasma plasma el poema poem el prisma prism el problema problem el programa program(me) el puma puma el reúma rheumatism (fem. in   Mexico. Also reuma) el síntoma symptom el sistema system el telegrama telegram puzzle el tema theme/topic/subject el trauma trauma

and most other scientific or technical words ending in -ma. But la amalgama ‘amalgam’, el asma ‘asthma’ (feminine, see 3.1.2 for the el), la estratagema ‘stratagem’ and la flema ‘phlegm’ are feminine. For other feminine words ending in -ma see 1.3.8. (1)  El Sáhara ‘the Sahara’, pronounced as though written sájara, has more or less replaced the older form el Sahara (pronounced [sa-á-ra]). El País rejects the latter form. (2)  ‘Pyjamas’/US ‘pajamas’ is la pajama or la piyama in Mexico, the Caribbean and much of Central America: en piyama te ves soñada (EM, Mex., dialogue; Spain pareces un sueño en pijama) ‘you look a dream in pyjamas’. (3)  A few masculine words ending in -ma are made feminine in popular speech, dialects and pre-nineteenth-century texts, especially clima, miasma and fantasma, cf. pobre fantasma soñadora in Lorca’s El maleficio de la mariposa.

1.3 Group B: Gender of nouns referring to animals not­included under 1.2 and to lifeless things


1.3.6  Feminine by meaning The following are feminine, usually because of an underlying feminine noun: (a)  Companies (la compañía, la firma): la Ford, la Hertz, la Microsoft, la Seat, la Volkswagen. (b)  Letters of the alphabet (la letra): una b, una c, una h, la delta, la omega. But note el delta ‘river delta’. (c)  Islands (la isla): las Antillas ‘West Indies’, las Azores, las Baleares, las Canarias, etc. (d)  Roads (la carretera ‘road’ or la autopista ‘motorway’/‘freeway’): la N11, la M4, la Panamericana. (e)  Many fruits. See 1.3.3m for a list. For more on how an underlying noun may determine the gender of a noun see 1.3.14.

1.3.7  Feminine by form Nouns ending in -ez, -eza, -ción, -ía, -sión, -dad, -tad, -tud, -umbre, -ie, -nza, -cia, -sis, -itis la niñez childhood la pez pitch (i.e. tar) la vez time (as in two   times)/appointment la doblez duplicity la pereza laziness la acción action la tontería foolishness

la versión version la verdad truth la libertad freedom la virtud virtue la cumbre summit la serie series la superficie surface la esperanza hope

la presencia presence la crisis crisis la diagnosis diagnosis la tesis thesis la parálisis paralysis la bronquitis bronchitis

el doblez fold/crease, also la el éxtasis ecstasy el apocalipsis apocalypse

el paréntesis bracket el énfasis emphasis/   pomposity of style

But the following are masculine: el ajedrez chess el pez fish el análisis analysis La doblez also means ‘duplicity’.

1.3.8  Common feminine nouns ending in -ma Many nouns ending in -ma are masculine (see 1.3.5b), but many are feminine. The following are common examples of feminine nouns ending in -ma: el alma* soul el arma* weapon el asma* asthma la alarma alarm la amalgama amalgam la broma joke la calma calm la cama bed la chusma rabble la cima summit la crema cream

la Cuaresma Lent la diadema diadem/tiara la doma breaking-in/taming la enzima enzyme la escama scale (fish) la esgrima fencing (the sport) la estima esteem la estratagema stratagem la fama fame la firma firm/signature la flema phlegm

la forma shape la gama selection/range  la goma rubber la lágrima teardrop  la lima file (for nails),   lime (fruit) la llama flame/llama la loma hillock la máxima maxim la merma decrease la norma norm

12 Gender of nouns la palma palm la paloma dove la pamema unnecessary  fuss la pantomima  pantomime

la prima female cousin;   bonus/prize la quema burning la rama branch la rima rhyme la sima chasm/abyss

la marisma marsh la suma sum la toma taking la trama plot (of novel) la yema egg yolk/fingertip

*These forms require the articles el/un for reasons explained at 3.1.2, but their gender remains feminine.

1.3.9  Gender of countries, provinces, regions Countries, provinces, states or regions ending with an unstressed -a are almost all feminine, e.g. la España/Francia/Argentina de hoy la conservadora Gran Bretaña la Alemania que yo conocía

Spain/France/Argentina today conservative Britain the Germany I knew

The rest are masculine: Canadá, México (often Méjico in Spain); Aragón, Devon (all masc.), (el) Paraguay, (el) Perú, Tennessee (masc.), Nuevo Hampshire, but Nueva Jersey. Some place namesincludethe definite article and may exceptionally be feminine, cf. las Hurdes (near Salamanca, Spain). For use of the article with countries and place names, see 3.2.17. El Sáhara is masculine. (1)  Sentences like todo Colombia lo sabe ‘all Colombia knows it’ are however correct, especially with the adjectives todo, medio, mismo, etc., probably because the underlying noun is pueblo ‘people’. Cf. todo Piura está muerta ‘the whole of Piura is dead’ (MVLl, Pe., dialogue). Compare the following, which refer to a place, not to people: toda Argentina está inundada de obras mías (MVLl, Pe.) ‘the whole of Argentina is flooded with books of mine’, un mono provoca un apagón en toda Kenia (ElPeriódico, Sp.) ‘monkey causes power outage throughout Kenya’.

1.3.10  Gender of cities, towns and villages Cities ending with an unstressed -a are usually feminine, the rest are usually masculine: la Barcelona de ayer el Moscú turístico . . . un imaginario Buenos Aires (JLB, Arg.)

the Barcelona of yesterday the tourist’s Moscow . . . an imaginary Buenos Aires

Exceptions: some cities appear to be feminine but are often treated as grammatically masculine: Nueva York but el Nueva York contemporáneo ‘modern New York’, Nueva York está lleno de ventanas (IA, Sp.) ‘New York is full of windows’, Nueva Orleans, Nueva Delhi, la antigua Cartago, Bogotá, antes de ser remodelada . . . (Colombian press, remodelado is possible) ‘Bogota, before it was refashioned’; and spontaneous language often makes cities feminine because of la ciudad ‘city’. Some cities include the definite article (written with a capital letter) in their name: El Cairo, La Habana ‘Havana’, La Haya ‘The Hague’. (1)  Villages are usually masculine even when they end in -a, because of underlying el pueblo ‘village’. (2) For todo Barcelona habla de ello ‘all Barcelona’s talking about it’ see 1.3.9 note 1.

1.3 Group B: Gender of nouns referring to animals not­included under 1.2 and to lifeless things


1.3.11  Gender of compound nouns These are numerous and nearly all are masculine: el abrelatas can opener el cazamariposas   butterfly net el lanzallamas flame-thrower

el paraguas umbrella el sacacorchos corkscrew el sacapuntas pencil   sharpener

el saltamontes grasshopper el salvapantallas   screensaver

Exceptions: la quitanieves and la tragaperras. See 2.1.8. (1)  Compound nouns consisting of two nouns have the gender of the first noun: el año luz ‘light year’, un perro policía ‘police dog’: see 2.1.9. The gender of other compound nouns should be learned separately.

1.3.12  Gender of foreign words Spanish is nowadays full of foreign words, many still not recognized by the Academy. Some of them have no real Spanish equivalent, e.g. el anorak el bitmap el/la blogger (or bloguero/a) el Bluetooth

el bul(l)dog el chat chatroom el cookie (in computing) el hackeo hacking

el router (in computing) el selfie el tuit, el tuitero, tweet,   tweeter; tuitear to tweet

Some have official (Academy) Spanish equivalents but the English form is often preferred in speech because it is shorter or sounds ‘cool’: el backup (la copia de seguridad) el blog (la bitácora) el bug (el duende/el error; in computing) el bullying (pron. [bú-lin]) (el acoso) el casting (el seleccionamiento/la audición) el clipboard (el portapapeles) el hard(ware) (el soporte físico) la tablet (computing: la tableta)

el joystick (la palanca de mando) el feedback (la retro-alimentación) el firewall (el cortafuegos) el soft(ware) (el soporte lógico) el littering (el basureo) el look (in fashion: la imagen) el smartphone (el teléfono inteligente)

English borrowings in Spanish can confuse learners. Sometimes their pronunciation is unfamiliar: el iceberg is pronounced in Spain as [e-li-θe-βéɾ] (three syllables: for the phonetic symbols see the Preface); the ai of el airbag is pronounced like ‘eye’, la or el wifi is pronounced like ‘wee fee’, el puzzle is [el-púθ-le] or [pús-le]. Quite often their meaning differs from the original: un áfter is a bar or club that stays open after hours, un biscuit is made of cream and ice-cream in Spain and in Mexico is a sort of bun or muffin, un bri(c)k is a carton for milk or other liquids, un escalextric is a ‘spaghetti junction’, el footing, in Spain, is ‘jogging’; un lifting is a ‘face-lift’, un magacín is a variety TV programme in Spain, un piercing is either the action or the stud or ring in the body, la nurse (properly la niñera) is paid to look after one’s children, el paddle or pádel is ‘paddle tennis’. According to El País, esnob in Spanish means ‘an exaggerated admiration for what is fashionable’ but in English it is someone who despises things or people that are ‘lower class’. Like all Spanish nouns, borrowed nouns must be masculine or feminine. Words that refer to human beings take the gender of the person: un(a) yuppie, un(a) trader and un(a) hacker, la nanny,

14 Gender of nouns la miss ‘beauty queen’. Words referring to non-living things may be feminine if they resemble a ­feminine Spanish noun in form or meaning or, sometimes, because they are feminine in the original language: la app app (in computing) la boutique (la tienda) shop/   store la chance chance (Lat. Am.   only, also masc.)

la élite elite (usually   pronounced [é-li-te]) la Guinness (la cerveza) ‘beer’ la NASA (la Agencia. . .) la opus in music (cf. la obra),   but el Opus = Opus Dei

la pizza la sauna sauna (often   masc. in Lat. Am.) la suite (all meanings) la yihad Jihad (la guerra   ‘war’)

But if the word is un-Spanish in spelling or ending or is not clearly related to a feminine Spanish noun, it will be masculine. The majority of foreign-looking words are therefore masculine ­regardless of their gender in the original language: el affaire affair (fem. in   French) el after-shave el audiobook el best-seller el big-bang los boxes pits (in motor  racing, better el taller) el burka burka el chalet detached house el chándal track-suit (French) el christmas/crismas   Christmas card el copyright el echarpe (light) scarf (fem.   in French; pronounced    as a Spanish word)

el eslogan advertising slogan el fax el film cling film/movie   (latter usually la película) el/la friki ‘freak’ (person) el gadget el gag joke (by a comedian) el hardware el jazz el karaoke el máster Master of Arts,   Science, etc. el módem el office pantry/utility room los panti(e)s tights (from   ‘panty-hose’) el pin badge

la performance (of motor, etc.) el póster el pub (a smart bar with   music in Spain) el puenting bungee-jumping el quark el ranking el reality ‘reality’ TV show el slip underpants el software el standing rank/prestige el top (women’s clothing), el vodka vodka (also fem.) el yoga yoga el zombi

(1)  For the phonetic transcription used in this section see the Preface. (2)  There is wide variation between the various Spanish-speaking countries as to the source and number of recent loanwords, so no universally valid list can be drawn up. (3)  The gender of Internet is uncertain: El País advocates masculine, the Academy is undecided. But internet is in fact mostly used as a proper noun, i.e. without an article: lo puedes buscar en internet ‘you can look for it on the Internet’, en México 70 millones de personas no tienen acceso a internet (La Jornada, Mex.) ‘in Mexico 70 million people have no access to the Internet’. It should be stressed on the final e. (4)  Web is now usually feminine whether it means ‘the web’ or ‘web site’. ‘Browser’ is un navegador. ‘Link’ is un enlace. Wifi can be either gender. Las redes sociales are ‘social networks’.

1.3.13  Gender of abbreviations This is determined by the gender of the main noun: el ADN (el ácido desoxirribonucleico) DNA el IVA (el Impuesto de Valor Añadido) VAT   (Value Added Tax)

el ovni (el objeto volante no identificado)  UFO

1.3 Group B: Gender of nouns referring to animals not­included under 1.2 and to lifeless things

la CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) la   Agencia. . . la ONU (la Organización de las Naciones   Unidas) UN la OTAN (La Organización del Tratado   del Atlántico Norte) NATO


la TDT (la televisión digital terrestre) digital TV la UCI (la Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos)   Intensive Care Unit las FF.AA. (las Fuerzas Armadas) Armed   Forces

(1)  If the gender of the underlying noun is unknown or uncertain the abbreviation is ­masculine– e.g. el DVD, pronounced [dew-βe-ðé], but [di-βi-ðí] in some parts of Latin America (see the Preface for the phonetic symbols); el GPS sistema de posicionamiento global, but the English abbreviation is used; el ISIS ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’. But feminine gender is used if there is a good reason for it, as in la RAF, la USAF (las fuerzas aéreas ‘air force’), etc. ETA, the now defunct Basque separatist organization, is feminine in Castilian. (2)  For plural abbreviations like EE.UU., FF.AA. See 2.1.12.

1.3.14  Gender acquired from underlying noun (metonymic gender) Several of the examples in this chapter have acquired the gender of another noun that has beendeleted (‘metonymic gender’). One says un Rioja, una Budweiser, una Guinness because el vino is masculine and la cerveza is feminine. This creates apparent gender errors in informal speech: la Rey Juan Carlos = la universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid la Modelo = la Cárcel Modelo Model Jail una HP Pavilion = una computadora HP Pavilion (but masc. in Spain, where ‘computer’ is el   ordenador) un pura sangre a thoroughbred animal. La sangre ‘blood’ is fem. Virgi fue la número uno en el curso de cabo (LS, Sp. dialogue) ‘Virgi(nia) was number one in the   (Civil Guards) corporals’ course

1.3.15  Doubtful genders The gender of some words is undecided, one of the oddest being el azúcar ‘sugar’ which is masculine even though a following adjective may be of either gender: el azúcar moreno/morena ‘brown sugar’. In the following list the more common gender is shown: acné (preferred to acne) m. acne apóstrofe m. apostrophe bikini/biquini m. (see note 4) chinche f. bed-bug/drawing pin cochambre f. dirt/filth cubalibre m. (f. in Mex., Ven., Ch.) dote f. dowry, personal gifts (i.e. ‘qualities’) duermevela m. or f. snooze/nap/light sleep el herpes m. herpes hojaldre m. puff pastry (Lat. Am. la hojaldra) interrogante m. question lente f. lens, but see note 2. Las lentillas =   ‘contact lenses’

linde f. boundary maratón m. marathon pelambre f. thick hair pitón f. python (Academy recommends el) pringue m. fat/grease/sticky dirt (esto está   pringoso ‘this is sticky’) reuma (preferred to reúma) m. rheumatism   (fem. in Mexico) sartén (see 1.3.17) tilde f. written accent (i.e. ‘ or ~) tizne m. soot/black smear or stain tortícolis f. stiff neck

(1)  Pre-twentieth-century texts may contain now obsolete genders, e.g. la puente ‘bridge’, la fin ‘end’, la análisis ‘analysis’, etc. For Internet and Web see 1.3.12 notes 3 and 4. For la/el radio see 1.3.4 note 1.

16 Gender of nouns (2)  Masculine gender of lente is common, cf. tuve que mandar hacer otros lentes (GZ, Mex.) ‘I had to get a new pair of glasses made’. The word for eye-glasses in Spain is las gafas and los anteojos in the Southern Cone. (3) Duermevela ‘nap’/‘short sleep’ is usually feminine in Latin America and also sometimes in Spain. (4)  Bikini or biquini is normally feminine in the River Plate area: una biquini amarilla a lunares (La Nación, Arg.) ‘a yellow polka-dot bikini’. It is masculine elsewhere.

1.3.16  Gender of mar ‘sea’ Masculine, except in poetry, the speech of sailors and fishermen, in weather forecasts and in nautical terms (la pleamar/la bajamar ‘high/low tide’, la mar llana/picada ‘calm/choppy sea’, hacerse a la mar ‘to put to sea’, en alta mar ‘on the high seas’, etc.), and whenever the word is used colloquially, as in la mar de tonto ‘absolutely stupid’, la mar de gente ‘“loads” of people’.

1.3.17  Some Latin-American genders Some words are given different genders in provincial Spain and/or some parts of Latin America. Examples current in educated usage and writing in some, but not all, Latin-American countries are: el bombillo (Sp. la bombilla) ‘light bulb’, el cerillo (Sp. la cerilla) ‘match’ (for making fire), el llamado (Sp. la llamada) ‘call’, el protesto (Sp. la protesta) ‘protest’, el vuelto (Sp. la vuelta) ‘change’ (money). Sartén ‘frying pan’/US ‘skillet’ is feminine in most of Spain and in Argentina, masculine in Mexico, and variable elsewhere. Students should enquire locally about its gender.

1.4  French nouns that mislead students of Spanish The gender of nouns in other Latin-based languages generally provides guidance to Spanish genders, but there are important differences. The following French nouns are notorious traps for students of both languages: affaire (f.) el affaire affair* aigle (m.) el águila (f.) eagle amalgame (m.) la amalgama   amalgam anagramme (f.) el anagrama   anagram analyse (f.) el análisis analysis apocalypse (f.) el apocalipsis   apocalypse apostrophe (f.) el apóstrofe   apostrophe armoire (f.) el armario closet asperge (f.) el espárrago   asparagus asthme (m.) el asma   (fem.) asthma attaque (f.) el ataque attack automobile (f.) el automóvil   automobile

banque (f.) el banco bank (la   banca = banking system/   bank in card-games) barbecue (m.) la barbacoa   barbecue calme (m.) la calma calm cidre (m.) la sidra cider Coca/Pepsi Cola (m.) la   Coca/Pepsi Cola, comète (f.) el cometa comet   (but la cometa = ‘kite’) courant (m.) la corriente   current dent (f.) el diente tooth diabète (m.) la diabetes   diabetes diocèse (m.) la diócesis   diocese doute (m.) la duda doubt

éclipse (f.) el eclipse eclipse emphase (f.) el énfasis   pomposity of style, also   ‘emphasis’ in Spanish énigme (f.) el enigma enigma équipe (f.) el equipo team extase (f.) el éxtasis ecstasy fin (f.) el fin end front (m.) la frente forehead   (but el frente = military/   weather front) fruit (m.) la fruta, but ‘the   fruit of their efforts’= el fruto de sus esfuerzos fumée (f.) el humo smoke guide (m.) la guía guide book hamburger (m.) la   hamburguesa horloge (f.) el reloj clock

1.5  Words differentiated by gender

idole (f.) el ídolo idol insulte (f) el insulto insult lait (m.) la leche milk lèvre (f.) el labio lip lièvre (m.) la liebre hare limite (f.) el límite limit marge (f.) la margen only when it means ‘river bank’,   masc. in all other meanings massacre (m.) la masacre   massacre Méditerranée (f.) el  Mediterráneo mensonge (m.) la mentira lie mer (f.) el mar sea (but see   1.3.16) meringue (f.) el merengue méthode (f.) el método   method miel (m.) la miel honey

minute (f.) el minuto minute moral (m.) la moral morale nez (m.) la nariz nose oasis (f.) el oasis oasis ongle (m.) la uña (f.) finger  nail/toe-nail ordre (m.) la orden. when it   means command or   religious order, otherwise   masc. origine (f.) el origen origin panique (f.) el pánico panic paradoxe (m.) la paradoja   paradox parenthèse (f.) el paréntesis   bracket/parenthesis période (f.) el período/periodo  period phoque (m) la foca seal (the   animal)


planète (f.) el planeta planet préface (f.) el prefacio preface Pyrénées (f.) el Pirineo or los   Pirineos Pyrenees rat (m.) la rata rat sang (m.) la sangre blood sauna (m.) la sauna sauna (m.   in parts of Lat. Am.) seconde (f.) el segundo second sel (m.) la sal salt serpent (m.) la serpiente snake signe, signal (m.) la seña, la  señal sign, signal stratagème (m.) la   estratagema stratagem vallée (f.) el valle valley vodka (m.) la vodka (or el   vodka) zèbre (m.) la cebra zebra

*An extra- or non-marital relationship is also una aventura (amorosa). (1)  Most French words ending in -eur are feminine, but their Spanish equivalents ending in -or are mostly masculine: la chaleur/el calor, la couleur/el color, la douleur/el dolor, une erreur/un error, la terreur/el terror, la vigueur/el vigor, etc.

1.5  Words differentiated by gender A large number of common words have meanings differentiated solely by their gender. Wellknown examples are: busca (m.) bleeper/pager (f.) search capital (m.) capital (money) (f.) capital city cólera (m.) cholera (f.) wrath/anger coma (m.) coma (f.) comma cometa (m.) comet (f.) kite (toy) consonante (m.) rhyming word (f.)   consonant corte (m.) cut (f.) the Court/‘Madrid’ cura (m.) priest (f.) cure delta (m.) river delta (f.) delta (Greek letter) doblez (usually m.) fold/crease (usually f.)  duplicity editorial (m.) editorial (f.) publishing house escucha (m.) electronic bug (f.) listening/   monitoring final (m.) end (f.) final (race, in sports) frente (m.) front (military) (f.) forehead

génesis (f) origin/genesis (m.) Genesis,   the book of the Bible guardia (m.) policeman (f.) guard (see   1.2.4 note 2) mañana (m.) tomorrow/morrow (f.)   morning margen (m.) margin (f.) riverbank moral (m.) mulberry tree (f.) morals/morale orden (m.) order (opposite of disorder) (f.)   command or religious order ordenanza (m.) messenger/orderly (f.)   decree/ordinance parte (m.) official bulletin (f.) part pendiente (m.) earring (f.) slope pez (m.) fish (f.) pitch (i.e. tar) radio (m.) radius/radium/spoke (f.) radio terminal (see note 2)

(1)  Arte is usually masculine in the singular, but feminine in the plural: el arte español ‘Spanish art’, las bellas artes ‘fine arts’. But note the set phrase el arte poética ‘treatise on poetry’, and consult

18 Gender of nouns a good dictionary for other similar phrases. Seco (1998), 60, notes that a phrase like esta nueva arte ‘this new art-form’ is not incorrect, and los artes de pesca ‘fishing gear’ (of a trawler) is standard usage, although las artes is also used: . . . temiendo que un lobo marino o un delfín se hubiera introducido en las artes (El País, Ur.) ‘. . . fearing that a seal (Sp. una foca) or dolphin had got into the tackle’. (2)  Terminal is usually masculine when it means ‘electrical terminal’, usually feminine when it means ‘computer terminal’, and normally feminine when it means ‘transport terminal’. However, in Chile, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela it is masculine in the latter meaning. (3)  For the gender of radio ‘radio’ see 1.3.4 note 1.

2 Plural of Nouns The main points discussed in this chapter are • • • •

How to form the plural of nouns (Section 2.1) Special features of the plural of nouns (Section 2.2) Count and mass nouns in Spanish (Section 2.2.1) Number agreement rules (Section 2.3)

2.1 How to form the plural of nouns 2.1.1 Summary of rules The vast majority of Spanish nouns form their plurals in one of the following three ways: Method

Main type of noun


1. Add –s

• Nouns ending with an unstressed vowel • Many foreign words ending with a consonant

la casa-las casas 2.1.2 el chalet-los chalets el jersey-los jerséis el café-los cafés, el capó-los capós, el sofá-los sofás, el menú-los menús

• Nouns ending in é, ó and some nouns ending in á, ú

2. Add –es

• Spanish nouns ending with a consonant other than -s la flor-las flores el inglés-los ingleses • Nouns ending with a stressed vowel + s la tos-las toses el tabú-los tabúes • Nouns ending in ú el israelí-los israelíes • Nouns ending in -í or los israelís

3. No change • Nouns ending with an unstressed vowel + -s • Families of people or things • Some foreign nouns whose plural would be difficult to pronounce

la crisis-las crisis el virus-los virus los Blanco, los Ford el test-los test (or tests) el kibbutz-los kibbutz

2.1.2 Nouns that make their plural by adding -s (a) Nouns ending in an unstressed vowel (very numerous): el huevo – los huevos egg la cama – las camas bed

la serie – las series series la tribu – las tribus tribe

(b) Nouns ending in -é, and words of one syllable ending in -e: el bebé – los bebés baby el café – los cafés coffee/café

el pie – los pies foot/feet el té – los tés tea

See section



20 Plural of Nouns (c)  Nouns of more than one syllable ending with –ó (rare): el dominó – los dominós domino

el buró – los burós roll-top desk

Compare el no – los noes, ‘no’/‘noes’, a one-syllable word. (d)  Many foreign words ending in a consonant, e.g. el anorak – los anoraks. See 2.1.6.

2.1.3  Nouns that make their plural by adding -es When -es is added any accent written on the last vowel of the singular disappears: la revolución – las revoluciones ‘revolution(s)’, el/la rehén – los/las rehenes ‘hostage(s)’. But the accent is retainedinthe combinations aí or aú to show that the second vowel is pronounced separately and not like ‘y’ or ‘w’: el país – los países ‘country’, la raíz – las raíces ‘root’, el baúl – los baúles ‘suitcase(s)’. If -es is added to a final z, the z is written c: la cruz – las cruces ‘cross’, la voz – las voces ‘voice’. The following words make their plural by adding -es: (a)  Spanish (or Hispanicized) nouns ending in a consonant other than -s (numerous!): el avión – los aviones aeroplane el bar – los bares bar (i.e. café) el baúl – los baúles trunk/large suitcase el color – los colores colour

el dron – los drones drone la ley – las leyes law la verdad – las verdades truth la vez – las veces time (as in ‘three times’)

(b)  One-syllable nouns ending in -s, and nouns ending in a stressed vowel plus s: la tos – las toses cough el dios – los dioses god el mes – los meses month la res – las reses farm animal

el autobús – los autobuses bus el inglés – los ingleses Englishman el revés – los reveses setback el país – los países country

Exception: el mentís – los mentís ‘denial’ (literary styles). (c)  Nouns ending in -í, -ú or -á: The following plural forms are found in written styles, but nowadays -s alone is added in speech and increasingly in print (but El País recommends -es). The Academy now accepts forms like ­marroquís ‘Moroccans’, pakistanís, iranís, etc. The following are in the formal style: el bisturí – los bisturíes scalpel el zulú – los zulúes Zulu hindú – hindúes (Asian) Indian el tabú – los tabúes taboo pakistaní – pakistaníes Pakistani el jacarandá – los jacarandaes jacaranda    tree, now usually jacarandás Exceptions: several frequently heard words always simply add -s: el champú – los champús shampoo el menú – los menús menu mamá – mamás mother, mum

papá – papás father/dad el sofá – los sofás sofa/couch el tisú – los tisús (paper) tissues

But forms like champúes, menúes occur in the River Plate area. In Spain a restaurant ‘menu’ is la carta and menú means ‘set menu’.

2.1  How to form the plural of nouns


(1)  The Latin-American words el ají ‘chilli’/‘chilli sauce’, and el maní ‘peanut’ (Spain el cacahuete) often form the plurals los ajises, los manises in speech, although the NGLE 5.2g disapproves and ajíes, maníes are used in writing and careful speech.

2.1.4  Nouns ending in -en Words ending in -en (but not -én) require an accent in the plural to preserve the position of the stress. Since they are constantly spelled wrongly the following forms should be noted: el carmen – los cármenes villa with a garden    (esp. in Granada, Spain) el crimen – los crímenes crime el germen – los gérmenes germ el origen – los orígenes origin

el/la margen – los/las márgenes ‘margin’    (masc.), ‘river bank’ (fem.) la imagen – las imágenes image la virgen – las vírgenes virgin

(1)  This also affects the word el mitin – los mítines ‘political meeting’/‘rally’. An ordinary meeting, e.g. family, business, is una reunión. ‘A reunion’ is un reencuentro. See 2.1.11 for el espécimen and el régimen.

2.1.5  Nouns that do not change in the plural (quite common) (a)  Words ending in an unstressed vowel plus s: el – los análisis analysis el – los croquis sketch el – los mecenas patron of el – los atlas atlas la – las dosis dose   the arts el – los campus campus el – los lunes Monday el – los paréntesis bracket el – los cactus cactus    (similarly all weekdays) la – las tesis thesis la – las crisis crisis el – los virus virus If the word contains only one vowel the plural ends in -es, e.g. el mes – los meses; see 2.1.3b. (b) Words ending in -x, e.g. el/los dúplex US ‘duplex apartment’, British ‘split-level flat’ or ­‘maisonette’, el/los clínex or kleenex ‘(paper) tissue’, el/los fax ‘fax’ (or faxes) (c)  Latin words ending in -t and -um (but see note 1) and a few other foreign words: los altos déficit presupuestarios (El País, Sp.)    ‘high budgetary deficits’ el – los CD-ROM the CD-ROM(s)

el – los accésit second prize el – los láser or lásers laser el – los cuórum quorum

(d)  Some foreign words whose plurals would be difficult to pronounce, e.g. los bíceps, los fórceps, los kibbutz, los sketch. See next section. (1) In everyday language Latin words ending in -um tend to form their plural in -ums: el memorándum-los memorandums (the accent becomes unnecessary because the plural ends in -s), el­referéndum – los referendums, el ultimátum – los ultimatums, el currículum vitae – los currículums vitae. Exception: el álbum, usually los álbumes ‘album’. El currículo ‘curriculum’ has recently spread in Spain, and possibly also elsewhere. Where possible, the NGLE 3.3j prefers Hispanicized forms like currículo(s), referendo(s), memorando(s), foro(s), solario(s) to forms like forums, solariums. The NGLE 3.3e recommends that Latin words ending in -t should add -s: déficits, hábitats, superávits, and this is common practice nowadays.

22 Plural of Nouns (2)  In general Spanish speakers do not use Latin plurals like our ‘cacti’ for ‘cactuses’, ‘fora’ for ‘forums’ or (incorrect) ‘referenda’ for ‘referendums’. The NGLE 3.3j rejects forms like data, media, memoranda and prefers datos, medios, memorandos, etc.

2.1.6  Plural of foreign words ending in a consonant The tendency is to treat them all like English words and simply add -s – but see 2.1.5c for Latin words. This often produces words ending in two consonants, which is unnatural in Spanish. If a word ends in b, c, f, g, k, m, p, t, v, or w, or in two or more consonants, it is almost certainly a foreign word and will make its plural in -s – the NGLE 3.4k now accepts these forms – unless they end with a s, sh or ch sound, cf. el kibutz ‘kibbutz’, el flash, el lunch, el sketch, in which case it will probably be invariable in spontaneous speech. Well-informed speakers may use foreign plurals like los flashes, los kibutzim, los sketches. Some common examples: el anorak – los anoraks anorak el boicot – los boicots boycott el bug – los bugs ‘bug’ in computing el complot – los complots (political) plot el chalet – los chalets detached house el gay – los gais gay (homosexual)

el hit – los hits hit song, film, etc. el hobby – los hobbys hobby el iceberg – los icebergs iceberg el jersey – los jerséis jersey el módem – los modems modem el penalty – los penaltis in sports

Some modern loanwords are treated as Spanish words and add -es. This happens most readily when the word ends in -l, -n or -r: el bar – los bares bar el/la barman – los/las bármanes barman/   barmaid el dólar – los dólares dollar el dosier – los dosieres dossier el dron – los drones drone

el electrón – los electrones electron el escáner – los escáneres scanner/scanning el estándar – los estándares standard el gol – los goles goal (in sport) el hotel – los hoteles hotel el suéter – los suéteres sweater

(1) El sándwich (sliced bread, unlike un bocadillo which is made with a baguette), makes the plural los sándwiches in educated usage, but los sándwich is common, usually pronounced [sáŋ-wich]. The Academy’s recommendation for sandwich, el emparedado, never caught on. El sánduche, which is more pronounceable, is heard in some Latin-American republics. (2)  Old ‘Academy’ plurals like los cócteles ‘cocktail’, los córneres ‘corner’ (in soccer), los fraques (for los fracs) ‘dress-coat’/‘tails’, etc. have become obsolete: -s alone is added. However los filmes ‘films’ is not uncommon and is the form recommended by El País (the usual word is la película), and los clubes is more common in writing than los clubs; El País prefers clubes. Los álbumes is generally preferred to los álbums ‘albums’. Los eslóganes is preferred by the Academy to los ­eslogans ‘(publicity) slogan’. The usual plurals of el pin ‘badge’ and el/la fan ‘fan’ (e.g. of a singer, but a sports fan is un/una hincha) are pins and fans; the NGLE 3.4h a­ dvocates pines and fanes but this advice is ­generally ignored (‘pin number’ is el número secreto). (3)  Some writers and editors treat foreign words ending in a consonant like Latin words (see 2.1.5c), so forms like los módem, los láser are seen. Such zero plural forms are often given to foreign words in spontaneous speech. The NGLE 3.4p recommends los test, los trust as plurals since many Spanish-speakers find sts difficult to pronounce. (4)  The NGLE 3.7m, says that abbreviations should not be pluralized: las ONG = organizaciones no gubernamentales, i.e. NGOs or ‘non-governmental organizations’, not las ONGs; los DNI Documento

2.1  How to form the plural of nouns


Nacional de Identidad, not DNIs. But las pymes (pequeñas y medianas empresas) ‘small and mediumsized businesses’ is treated as an ordinary word.

2.1.7  Proper names If a proper name refers to members of a family, it usually has no plural form: los Franco, los Mallol, los Kennedy, los Pérez; en casa de los Riba hay una niña que amaré toda la vida (EP, Mex., dialogue) ‘inthe Ribas’ house there’s a girl whom I’ll love for the whole of my life’; but exceptions to thisrule are seen. A group of individuals who merely happen to have the same name will be pluralized according to the usual rules, although names in -és and -z are almost always invariable: Este pueblo está lleno de Morenos, This village is full of Morenos,   Blancos y Péreces/Pérez    Blancos and Pérezes no todos los Juan Pérez del mundo (JD, Ch.) not all the Juan Pérezes in the world (1)  The same rule applies to objects that form families: los Ford ‘Ford cars’, los Chevrolet, los Renault. The NGLE 3.6h recommends this rule. (2)  Royal houses are considered to be successive individuals: los Borbones ‘the Bourbons’, los Habsburgos ‘the Habsburgs’.

2.1.8  Compound nouns consisting of a verb + a plural noun These do not change in the plural: el – los abrelatas tin-opener el – los cumpleaños birthday el – los guardaespaldas bodyguard el – los lanzamisiles missile-launcher el – los limpiabotas shoeshine el – los portaaviones aircraft carrier la/las tragaperras gambling machine/slot   machine

la – las quitanieves snowplough/US    snowplow. Seco (1998) says it is feminine el – los elevalunas automatic car   window-opener

2.1.9  Compound nouns consisting of two nouns This is a large and growing class of compound nouns. Normally only the first noun is pluralized: el año luz – los años luz light-year el arco iris – los arcos iris rainbow el bebé probeta – los bebés probeta test-tube baby el carril bus – los carriles bus bus lane la hora punta – las horas punta rush hour/peak   hour (la hora pico in many Lat. Am.   countries)

el perro policía – los perros policía police dog el satélite espía – los satélites espía spy   satellite la tienda online – las tiendas online online   shop/store. Also tiendas en línea/la   cibertienda.

But always el país miembro – los países miembros ‘member country’, la tierra virgen – las tierras vírgenes ‘virgin land’. (1)  Pluralizing the second word makes it into a noun rather than an adjective: los perros policías sounds like ‘dogs who are policemen’, but perros policía are dogs who work for the police.

24 Plural of Nouns Compare las ediciones pirata ‘pirate editions’ and los editores piratas ‘pirate publishers’, los niños modelo ‘model children’ and los niños modelos ‘child models’. La ciencia ficción ‘science fiction’ is unusual in that the second word is the head noun. It is borrowed from English. (2)  These compounds are very common in phrases like un módem WAP, la red wifi ‘wi-fi network’, una tarjeta SIM ‘SIM card’, una página web ‘web page’; in abbreviated notices, e.g. camisetas niño ‘children’s T-shirts’, zapatos mujer ‘women’s shoes’; and in trade descriptions: champú anticaspa ‘anti-dandruff shampoo’, un cupón descuento ‘discount coupon’, etc. For the plural of adjectives like extra, violeta see 5.2.3 and 5.2.4.

2.1.10  Other types of compound noun (a)  The following compound nouns are invariable in the plural: el sin casa los sin casa/sin techo homeless person el hazmerreír los hazmerreír laughing-stock el vivalavirgen los vivalavirgen fun-lover/laid-back/someone who    couldn’t give a damn (b)  Other compound nouns are treated as single words with regular plurals: el altavoz – los altavoces loudspeaker el quehacer – los quehaceres task    (Lat. Am. el altoparlante) el rapapolvo – los rapapolvos telling-off/ la bocacalle – las bocacalles side street   scolding el correveidile – los correveidiles tell-tale el sordomudo – los sordomudos deaf-mute los dimes y diretes gossip el tentempié – los tentempiés snack el hidalgo – los hidalgos nobleman el todoterreno – los todoterrenos four  (the old plural was hijosdalgo)   wheel-drive vehicle el pésame – los pésames condolences el vaivén – los vaivenes ups-and-downs/ swaying motion

2.1.11  Irregular plurals Only four irregular plurals are in common use. (a) Three common nouns shift their stress in the plural: el carácter – los caracteres ‘character’(not*los carácteres!), el espécimen – los especímenes ‘specimen’ and el régimen – los regímenes ‘regime’. (b)  El lord (British) ‘lord’ has the plural los lores: la Cámara de los Lores ‘the House of Lords’.

2.1.12  Plural of abbreviations The plural of two-word abbreviations is shown by doubling the letters: las CC. AA. Comunidades Autónomas ‘Autonomous Regions’ in Spain, las FF. AA. las Fuerzas Armadas ‘Armed Forces’, los EE.UU. Los Estados Unidos ‘USA’, las CC. OO. Las Comisiones Obreras, one of Spain’s trade unions, los JJ.OO los Juegos Olímpicos ‘The Olympic Games’.

2.2  Some features of Spanish plural nouns


2.2  Some features of Spanish plural nouns 2.2.1  Count nouns and mass nouns in Spanish and English A count noun refers to things that can be counted: ‘an egg’ – ‘two eggs’. Mass or uncountable nouns are non-countable things: ‘justice’, ‘bread’, but not *‘two justices’, *‘two breads’. In bothEnglish and Spanish, mass or uncountable nouns can often be pluralized to mean ­differentvarieties of the same thing: ‘her fear’ – ‘her fears’, ‘my love’ – ‘my loves’. This deviceismore frequentinSpanish than in English, and translation of the plural may require thought, e.g.: Hubo varias urgencias There were several emergencies Ejercía diversas soberbias (JLB, Arg.) He practised various kinds of arrogance . . . conductas que afectan el bolsillo de . . . types of behaviour that affect the pockets   todos los mexicanos (La Jornada, Mex.)    of all Mexicans A number of Spanish nouns can be pluralized in this way whereas their English translation cannot, e.g. la amistad friendship las amistades friends la atención attention las atenciones acts of kindness la bondad goodness las bondades good acts la carne meat/flesh las carnes fleshy parts/types of meat el consejo advice los consejos pieces of advice la crueldad cruelty las crueldades cruel acts la información information las informaciones news items el mueble item of furniture los muebles items of furniture el negocio business los negocios business affairs, Lat. Am.,   stores/shops el pan bread los panes loaves of bread el progreso progress los progresos advances la tostada toast las tostadas slices of toast la tristeza sadness las tristezas sorrows el trueno thunder los truenos thunderclaps (1)  Both languages may use counters or quantifiers (words like ‘loaf’, ‘piece’) to make uncountable nouns plural: tres pastillas/barras de jabón ‘three bars of soap’, las briznas de hierba ‘blades of grass’, unos dientes de ajo ‘some cloves of garlic’, las parcelas de terreno ‘plots of land’, trozos/hojas/ pedazos de papel ‘pieces/sheets of paper’, las barras de tiza ‘sticks of chalk’, los terrones de azúcar ‘lumps of sugar’, las motas de polvo ‘specks of dust’, etc. (2)  There are some subtleties: a finales de agosto ‘at the end of August’, but al final del pasillo ‘at the end of the corridor’; a comienzos or a comienzo de la década ‘at the beginning of the decade’, but only en el comienzo del libro ‘at the beginning of the book’. The NGLE 3.8p mentions the difference between tener relación con alguien ‘to be connected/associated with someone’ and tener relaciones con alguien’ ‘to have a sexual, emotional or diplomatic relationship’. El deber usually means ‘duty’; los deberes means ‘homework’, though the singular can be used for the latter in parts of Latin America.

26 Plural of Nouns

2.2.2  Nouns denoting symmetrical objects As in English, these nouns are usually invariably plural: los auriculares earphones las bragas panties las gafas glasses (Lat. Am. los anteojos/   los lentes) las pinzas tweezers

los prismáticos binoculars las tijeras scissors

‘A pair of’ is unos/unas before such nouns. (1)  Colloquially the singular may be used in some regions, as in ¿podría prestarme una tijera? (EP, Mex., dialogue) ‘could you lend me some scissors?’. The more usual form in Spain comes first: los alicates/el alicate pliers/pincer las pinzas/la pinza peg/pincers/ tweezers/ el bigote/los bigotes moustache    dart (in sewing) los calzoncillos/un calzoncillo men’s el pantalón/los pantalones trousers/    underpants/US shorts   US ‘pants’: sing. and plur. equally common la muralla/las murallas city walls la nariz/las narices nose (both used) (2)  Las escaleras = ‘stairs’, la escalera = ‘ladder’.

2.2.3  Nouns always plural in Spanish As happens in English, some nouns or phrases are normally found only in the plural. The following list is by no means exhaustive: las afueras outskirts las agujetas pins and needles (in the skin) los alrededores surroundings los altos (Lat. Am.) upstairs flat/apartment los bajos (Lat. Am.) downstairs apartment los bártulos (colloquial) belongings/‘gear’ los bienes goods, provisions buenas noches good night buenas tardes good afternoon buenos días good morning los celos jealousy los cimientos foundations las cosquillas tickling las dietas expenses/allowances/diets

los espaguetis spaghetti las exequias funeral arrangements las ganas urge/desire (tener muchas) ínfulas to be conceited las Navidades or la Navidad Christmas las ojeras bags under the eyes los prismáticos binoculars los restos remains los sesos brains (in cooking) las tinieblas darkness las vacaciones holiday/vacation los víveres provisions/supplies las zarandajas fiddly things/gossip

(1)  Buen día is a less common alternative to buenos días. Christmas is la Navidad or las Navidades: Feliz Navidad = Felices Navidades ‘Happy Christmas’. Buenos días, buenas tardes and buenas noches can all be shortened to buenas . . . in very informal speech. Buen día is common in the Southern Cone and is occasionally heard elsewhere. It is uncommon but sometimes heard in Spain.

2.2.4  Singular for objects of which a person has only one The English sentence ‘they hurt their knees’ is ambiguous: one knee or both? Spanish normally clarifies the issue by using the singular if only one each is implied or if only one thing is possessed:

2.3  Number agreement rules


Les cortaron la cabeza They cut off their heads Se quitaron el sombrero They took off their hats Todos tenían novia All had girlfriends (one each) tres israelíes con pasaporte alemán three Israelis with German passports La cara de Antonio no refleja el mismo Antonio’s face doesn’t reflect the same    entusiasmo. Ni la de sus cuñados tampoco    enthusiasm. Nor do those (lit. ‘nor does   (CRG, Sp.)    that’) of his brothers and sisters-in-law (1)  This rule is optional when the object possessed is not part of the body: quítense el sombrero/los sombreros ‘take off your hats’, podéis dejar la chaqueta/las chaquetas aquí ‘you can leave your jackets here’. (2)  The rule with parts of the body is often ignored in Latin-American speech: nos hemos mojado las cabezas (Bol., quoted Kany, 26) ‘we’ve wet our heads’, lo hacían para que no les viéramos las caras (LS, Mex., dialogue) ‘they were doing it so we wouldn’t see their faces’. The plural can sometimes remove ambiguity, as in los extranjeros felicitaban al maquinista por su gran pericia para lograr el descarrilamiento en el lugar preciso donde sus vidas corrieran peligro (La Época, Ch.) ‘the foreigners congratulated the train-driver for his great skill in managing to cause a derailment exactly at thespot where their lives would be at risk’, where the singular su vida might mean the ­train-driver’s life.

2.2.5  Singular for plural Singular nouns may sometimes be used to represent large numbers after words like mucho, tanto, etc., often, but not exclusively, with an ironic or faintly weary tone: También había mucha estudiante con vaqueros There were also a lot of girl students in   y camisetas (JM, Sp.)    jeans and T-shirts A mí me parecía maravilloso ver tanto soldado It seemed wonderful to me to see so many   (NC, Mex.)   soldiers ¿Cuál era el móvil de tanto ataque? (MS, Mex., What was the reason for so many attacks?   dialogue) The GDLE,, says that to enter a busy parking lot looking for a space and to say hay mucho coche sounds more pessimistic than hay muchos coches ‘there are lots of cars’.

2.3  Number agreement rules This section covers various aspects of number agreement, mainly with nouns. For further remarks on the agreement of adjectives see 5.6. For the agreement of possessive adjectives, see 9.3.1–2. For agreement with cuyo see 39.7. For tense agreement see 17.8 and 20.8.

2.3.1  Number agreement with collective nouns (a) Adjectives that modify a collective noun (a noun referring to a group of persons or things) are singular and the verb is singular when it immediately follows the noun. In other words, Spanish always says la policía británica busca ‘the British police “is” seeking’, la gente dice ‘people “says”’. . ., not ‘buscan’, ‘dicen’. British English tends to use the plural after collective nouns: El gobierno considera . . . La tripulación está a su disposición El resto de mis bienes es ya vuestro (AG, Sp.)

The government consider(s) . . . The crew are/is at your disposal The rest of my goods is yours now

28 Plural of Nouns La mayoría de las personas se quedó Most people were gaping when they    boquiabierta cuando lo vio entrar (MS, Mex.)   saw him come in (b)  When a collective noun is linked to a plural noun, usually by de, the safest option is to make the adjective or verb plural: un grupo de vecinos airados ‘a group of angry neighbours’, una mayoría de españoles creen que . . . ‘a majority of Spaniards think that . . .’, un mínimo de 13 presos habían sido asistidos de heridas (El País, Sp.) ‘a minimum of 13 prisoners had been treated for injuries’, la mayoría de las personas que se manifestaron son albañiles (La Jornada, Mex.) ‘the majority of persons who demonstrated are builders’. But singular agreement is possible: el resto de los presentes soportaba con estoicismo la elevada temperatura (LS, Ch.) ‘the rest of those present were bearing the high temperature stoically’. The question of agreement in such cases is controversial. Seco (1998), 126, recommends the plural, but El País recommends the singular wherever possible. Seco’s is the best advice since it avoids nonsense like *un grupo de mujeres rubio *‘a blond group of women’ for un grupo de mujeres rubias ‘a group of blond women’. (1)  When collective nouns are separated from the verb by intervening words, plural agreement is much more common: cuando la policía llegó al apartamento, se encontraron con la cómica, aunque desagradable escena . . . (La Vanguardia, Sp., quoted GDLE 1.4.4) ‘when the police reached the ­apartment they were met with the comical but disagreeable spectacle . . .’ Native speakers sometimes hesitate over agreement with collective nouns: una pareja amiga que se llama/llaman Mario y Ana ‘a couple who are friends of ours and are called Mario and Ana’. (2)  For constructions like la mayoría son españoles, el comité son unos mentirosos, see 2.3.3.

2.3.2  Plural noun after tipo de, etc. After tipo de and similar phrases (e.g. clase de, género de . . .), countable nouns are usually made plural: ¿Por qué hacen los hombres este tipo de cosas?   (CRG, Sp.) Ese tipo de relaciones son siempre difíciles   (MS, Mex., dialogue)

Why do men do this kind of thing? That kind of relationship is always difficult

2.3.3  Esto son lentejas, todo son problemas, el jefe eres tú, etc. When ser and a few other verbs like volverse have a singular subject and a plural noun for their predicate, as in ‘everything is problems’, they agree in number with the predicate: todo son pro­ blemas, eso son malas noticias ‘that’s bad news’. This most often occurs after neuterpronouns like lo que . . . ‘what . . .’, todo ‘everything . . .’, esto ‘this . . .’, etc. A similar phenomenon is found in French and German, which say ‘it are lies’: ce sont des mensonges, es sind Lügen: El escrito eran nuestras condiciones Primero todo fueron bromas (EP, Mex.) —¿Cuánto le debo? —Son cien euros Lo demás fueron un par de detalles burocráticos   (ABE, Pe.) Su morada más común son las ruinas (JLB, Arg.) Lo que llega son series de números (MC, Mex.,   dialogue)

The document was our conditions At first it was all jokes ‘How much do I owe you?’ ‘That’s 100 euros’ The rest was a couple of bureaucratic details Their most usual dwelling-place is ruins What arrives is series of numbers

2.3  Number agreement rules


(1)  This rule is not always applied: lo único que no falta es cigarrillos (MVLl, Pe., for son cigarrillos) ‘the only thing that isn’t lacking is cigarettes’, lo primero que vi fue policías (ABE, Pe.) ‘the first thing I saw was policemen’, lo que mejor se ve es las casas de enfrente (MP, Arg., dialogue) ‘what you can see best is the houses opposite’. (2)  For the rule to be applied, the predicate must really refer to a collection of different things. In the following example Mario is really only one complex person: Mario es en realidad muchas personas diferentes ‘Mario is really a lot of different people’. (3)  The same – or a similar – rule also applies to other persons of the verb: la persona más importante eres tú ’the most important person is you’ (not *es tú), el que manda soy yo (not *es yo) ‘I’m the one who gives the orders’, la mayoría somos cubanos ‘most of us are Cubans’, los responsables sois vosotros (Spain only, Lat. Am. . . . son ustedes) ‘you’re the responsible ones’.

2.3.4 Agreement with nouns linked by y, o and phrases meaning ‘aswell as’ (a)  Nouns linked by y require plural agreement unless they form, or are felt to form, a single concept. Compare su padre y su madre estaban preocupados ‘his father and mother were worried’ (different people) and Ángela era su mujer y secretaria ‘Angela was his wife and secretary’ (one person, so obviously not sus). When several things can optionally be viewed as one, either singular or plural agreement is in fact usually possible: El derrumbe del socialismo y la desaparición The collapse of socialism and the   de la URSS causó el mayor daño (FC, Cu.,    disappearance of the Soviet Union   or causaron)    caused the greatest damage (b) With o ‘or’, agreement is optional if the verb comes first, but the singular stresses the idea of ‘one or the other’ more than the plural: viene(n) Mario o Antonia ‘either Mario or Antonia is coming’, but Mario o Antonia vendrán ‘Mario or Antonia are coming’. (c)  Agreement after phrases that mean ‘as well as’, ‘likewise’, etc., seems to be optional, although the plural is more common: tanto Mario como María pensaba(n) que ‘both Mario and Maria thought that . . .’.

3 The definite article The main points discussed in this chapter are • Forms of the definite article (el/la/los/las) (Section 3.1) • The use of el/un before certain feminine nouns (Section 3.1.2) • Uses and omission of the definite article (Section 3.2) Articles are words meaning ‘the’ (‘definite article’) or ‘a’/‘an’ (‘indefinite article’). Both English and Spanish have articles, but they are not always used in the same way. This chapter discusses the forms and uses of the definite article (el/la/los/las). The indefinite article, un/una/unos/unas, is discussed in Chapter 4. For the use of the definite article to replace a possessive adjective, e.g. María se ha roto la (not ‘su’) muñeca ‘María’s broken her wrist’, me dejé la cartera en casa ‘I left my wallet at home’, see 9.3.4. For the definite article in phrases like ‘the most interesting book’ see 6.3. For the ‘neuter article’ lo see 8.2.

3.1 Forms of the definite article 3.1.1 Masculine and feminine definite articles Masculine




la (el before feminine nouns beginning with a stressed a sound. See 3.1.2)




(1) La is not shortened to l’ in modern Spanish: compare la artista ‘woman artist’ with Italian l’artista, French l’artiste. Nor is the a of la dropped in pronunciation before words beginning with a vowel other than a: la emisora ‘radio station’ is pronounced [lae-mi-só-ɾa], not [le-mi-só-ɾa]. The a and e are run together to form one syllable in a way that English-speakers find difficult to imitate. Compare la amiga [la-mí-γa] ‘female friend’, la avioneta [la-βyo-né-ta] ‘light aeroplane’.

3.1.2 Use of el and un before certain feminine nouns Important: on both continents and in all styles el and un must be used immediately before singular feminine nouns beginning with stressed a- or ha-: el agua ‘water’, el/un haya ‘beech-tree’, el aforo del aula ‘the capacity of the lecture room’, etc. This does not affect their gender, which remains feminine. Some common examples: el/un abra mountain pass (Lat. Am. Sp. el puerto) el África moderna modern Africa el/un águila eagle el/un alba dawn el/un alma soul

el/un alza rise/increase el/un ancla anchor el/un área area el/un arma weapon el/un arpa harp el Asia de hoy Asia today el/un asma asthma

el/un ave large bird el/un habla speech-form el/un hacha axe/US ax el/un hada fairy el/un hambre hunger el hampa the criminal underworld

3.1  Forms of the definite article


The plural is always with las/unas: las águilas ‘eagles’, las hachas ‘axes’ and adjectives are femininein form: un aula oscura ‘a dark lecture hall’. The feminine article must also be used if any word comes between the definite article and the noun: una peligrosa arma ‘a dangerous weapon’, la misma agua ‘the same water’. Compare the following words which do not begin with a stressed a: la/una amnistía amnesty la arena sand la/una apertura opening la/una arroba at-sign: @;    also an old measure    of weight = 11.502 kg

la/una hacienda ranch la/una hamburguesa hamburger

Exceptions: la/una a ‘letter a’, la/una app ‘app’ (in computing), la/una hache, ‘letter h’, la/una aya children’s governess, La Haya ‘the Hague’, la/una árabe ‘Arab woman’, la/una ácrata ‘anarchist woman’, la/una árbitra ‘female referee’ (approved by the Academy); abbreviations – see note 3. The Spanish high-speed train, el AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) is masculine because of underlying eltren. (1)  One sees and hears mistakes like *otro aula ‘another lecture room’ for otra aula or *a raíz del último alza del petróleo (Abc, Sp., quoted Seco 1998, 176, properly la última alza) ‘. . . following the latest rise in oil prices’. ?Tengo un hambre bárbaro ‘I’m starving hungry’ or ?tengo mucho hambre ‘I’m very hungry’ are heard in relaxed speech on both continents for . . . hambre bárbara, . . . mucha hambre. The masculine forms are banned from careful language. (2)  Important: use of the masculine article occurs only before nouns, not before adjectives beginning with stressed a- or h­ a: una amplia estancia (FU, Sp.) wide room una alta mujer (JLB, Arg.) a tall woman ¿Vas a comprar un móvil? La amplia gama Are you buying a mobile/cell phone?   de modelos complica la decisión (El País, Sp.) The wide range of models makes deciding   more difficult (3)  The rule does not apply to abbreviations. La ACA = la Agencia Catalana de Agua ‘Catalan Water Authority’. (4)  El and un are often used before feminine compound nouns whose first element would have begun with a stressed a had it stood alone: aguamarina ‘aquamarine’, aguanieve ‘sleet’, avemaría ‘Ave Maria’. However, the Academy recommends la (NGLE 14.2u). (5)  The use of un in writing before these nouns is a recent development although it has a long history in spoken Spanish. The Academy’s Dictionary adopted it only after 1970, so forms like una alma for un alma ‘a soul’ are therefore still sometimes found. (6) for alguna or algún ‘some’ before nouns beginning with stressed a- or ha- see 10.4.1 note 2. For ninguna ‘no’ see 27.5.5. For the colloquial use of este ‘this’, ese and aquel ‘that’ before these nouns, see7.1note3. (7)  La is also used before Ángela, Ana and other women’s names beginning with stressed A, but use of the article before names is unusual in most regions. See 3.2.21. (8)  Note la/una haz or el/un haz, feminine, ‘surface’/‘face’, e.g. por el haz y por el envés ‘on the surface and on the reverse side’, el haz being most common in Spain. But el haz, masculine = ‘bundle’ or ‘beam of light’.

32 The definite article

3.1.3  Del and al De plus el is shortened to del ‘of the’ – del libro ‘of the book’ – and  a plus el is shortened to al ‘to the’: ‘al libro’ to the book’. De él ‘of him’ and a él ‘to him’ are not abbreviated in modern Spanish. The abbreviated forms are not used – at least in writing – if the definite article is part of a proper name: la primera página de El Comercio page one of El Comercio Viajaron a El Cairo They travelled to Cairo en el último número de El Vocero Cristiano in the latest number of The   (J JA, Mex.)   Christian Spokesman

3.2  Uses and omission of the definite article 3.2.1  General remarks on the use of the definite article The use of the articles is notoriously difficult to explain: why does one say en la práctica ‘in practice’ but – usually – en teoría ‘in theory’? Use of the definite articles also varies slightly from region to region, so the rules given here must be supplemented by careful study of good writing and educated speech. What follows should make it clear to readers who know French that, despite many similarities, the Spanish definite article is less used than its French counterpart, and apparently less now than before about 1950.

3.2.2  The French and Spanish definite articles The following summary of the main differences and similarities may be useful. French


Used with unqualified names of countries, regions: l’Espagne Not used, with exceptions shown at 3.2.17. España es un hermoso país, ¡viva Francia!, est un beau pays, vive la France!, la Normandie, etc. Used when addressing people: salut les gars!, oui, monsieur Not used: ¡hola muchachos!, sí, señor Presidente le Président

Not used in sentences like il viendra mardi

Used: vendrá el martes

Not used in time expressions of the type il est huit heures

Used: son las ocho

Used with generic nouns: le vin est mauvais pour le foie ‘wine Very similar, but not identical (see 3.2.6): el vino es is bad for the liver’

malo para el hígado

Replaces possessives with parts of body: il ferme les yeux, il lui caresse les cheveux, il a les yeux bleus, etc.

Similar, but also with clothing and personal possessions: cierra los ojos ‘he shuts his eyes’, le acaricia el pelo ‘(s)he strokes his/her hair’, he perdido la agenda ‘I’ve lost my diary’, te he aparcado el coche ‘I’ve parked your car’. See 9.3.4

Double article in superlatives when adjective follows noun:

Only one article, el libro más interesante. See 6.3

le livre le plus intéressant

Used with superlative adverbs: c’est lui qui chante le mieux

Not used: él es quien mejor canta; see 6.4

Used in phrases like cinq euros le kilo

Same: cinco euros el kilo

De used before partitive nouns (i.e. to ex press ‘some’): il boit de l’eau, il y avait de la neige, des monnaies

unos used: unas monedas

No article or preposition: bebe agua, había nieve, or

3.2  Uses and omission of the definite article


3.2.3  A useful generalization about the Spanish definite article With three important exceptions, if the definite article is used in English it is also used in Spanish: la caída del gobierno El gato se ha comido las salchichas

the fall of the government The cat’s eaten the sausages

Exceptions: (a) Ordinal numbers with kings, popes, etc.: Fernando VII (Fernando séptimo) ‘Ferdinand the Seventh’, Carlos III (Carlos tercero) ‘Charles the Third’, Juan XXIII (Juan veintitrés). (b)  Some set phrases in Spanish have no definite article whereas in English they usually do. a corto/largo plazo in the short/long run a gusto de to the liking of a título de in the capacity of: a título de   información ‘to whom it may concern’ a voluntad de at the discretion of cuesta abajo down (the) hill cuesta arriba up (the) hill

de plantilla on the payroll/staff en alta mar on the high seas en manos de at/in the hands of en nombre de in the name of hacia oriente, etc. towards the east (but hacia   el este, sur, etc.)

Note also a fuerza de ‘by dint/means of’, and a la fuerza/por fuerza ‘by force’. (c)  The word Internet is usually used with no article: bajar/descargar un fichero de Internet ‘to download a file from the Internet’.

3.2.4  Definite article with more than one noun Two or more nouns should have their own definite article if they refer to different things (but see 3.2.7 for an exception). In this respect, Spanish differs from English which allows phrases like ‘the sun and moon’, ‘a dog and cat’, ‘those men and women’. Spanish says el sol y la luna, un perro y un gato, esos hombres y esas mujeres. ?Un gato y perro suggests a cross between a cat and a dog, and *mi hermano y hermana ‘my brother and sister’ is not good Spanish: el padre y la madre the father and mother entre el hotel y la playa between the hotel and beach El desorden callejero y las piedras son Street disorders and stones are contrary to    contrarios a la democracia (La Época, Ch.)   democracy But if the nouns are felt to form a single complex idea, which is often the case when they are joined by o ‘or’, all but the first article may be omitted, especially in writing: el misterio o enigma del origen . . . (OP, Mex.) the mystery or enigma of the origin los laboratorios, equipos, bibliotecas, . . . the laboratories, equipment, libraries,    aulas, sistemas audiovisuales indispensables    lecture rooms, audio-visual systems    para cumplir con su trabajo. (MVLl, Pe.),    indispensable for them to do their work (1)  Nouns may represent similar things in one context and not in another. One says voy a comprar un libro y una revista ‘I’m going to buy a book and a magazine’ (two different things), but los libros y (las) revistas están en el estante de arriba ‘the books and magazines are on the top shelf’. Here books and magazines are seen as varieties of one thing, i.e. ‘publications’.

34 The definite article (2)  Pairs of humans or animals must have separate articles: el abuelo y la abuela ‘grandfather and grandmother’, el padre y el hijo ‘father and son’, el/un toro y la/una vaca ‘the/a bull and (the/a) cow’; never *el abuelo y abuela, *el padre e hijo, *el/un toro y vaca. (3) Constructions like *los y las alumnos or *las y los alumnos for los alumnos y las alumnas ‘(themale and female students)’ are not Spanish, but they are more acceptable with nouns that are not marked by their ending for gender, as in los y las estudiantes (el/la estudiante = ‘student’), los y las clientes ‘customers’/‘clients’.

3.2.5  Omission of articles in proverbs Articles, definite and indefinite, are often dropped in proverbs and in remarks that are meant to sound like proverbial wisdom: Gato escaldado del agua fría huye A scalded cat runs from cold water Oveja que bala, bocado que pierde A bleating sheep misses a nibble (i.e.   you miss out if you talk too much) Turista que se enoja, no regresa (LS, Mex., An angry tourist doesn’t come back   dialogue. Enojarse = enfadarse in Spain)

3.2.6  Definite article with generic nouns With the exceptions noted at 3.2.10, the definite article is used before nouns that refer to something in general (‘generic’ nouns). In this respect, Spanish differs completely from English. These nouns are typically: (a)  Abstract nouns referring to a concept in general: la democracia democracy el catolicismo español/la sociedad cubana Spanish Catholicism/Cuban society Mi relato será fiel a la realidad (JLB, Arg.) My story will be true to reality El debate sobre la cultura, los derechos, The debate about culture, rights and    y la autonomía indígena (La Reforma, Mex.)   Native-American autonomy Sentences like *reforma electoral es la única solución ‘electoral reform is the only solution’, are a common mistake of English-speakers and must be rewritten la reforma electoral es . . . (b)  Substances in general: El salvado es bueno para la digestión El acero inoxidable es carísimo La sangre no tiene precio

Bran is good for the digestion Stainless steel is extremely expensive Blood has no price

(c)  Countable nouns which refer to all the members of their class: Los belgas beben mucha cerveza Belgians (in general) drink a lot of beer Los automovilistas debían contentarse con escuchar Car-drivers had to make do with   la radio (La Nación, Arg., refers to all the    listening to their radios    the drivers involved in the jam) El tigre es un animal peligroso The tiger is (‘tigers are’) a dangerous animal El periodista escribe para el olvido (JLB, Arg., Journalists write for oblivion (i.e. ‘to be   dialogue)   forgotten’)

3.2  Uses and omission of the definite article


Sentences like *italianos comen más ajo que noruegos ‘Italians eat more garlic than Norwegians’ are not Spanish, though they are seen in Latin-American press headlines. One says los italianos comen más ajo que los noruegos. (1)  Colours belong to the class of abstract nouns and require the definite article: el azul ‘blue’, el negro ‘black’, el amarillo no me gusta ‘I don’t like yellow’. A sentence like ¿te gusta el rojo? is therefore ambiguous: ‘do you like the red one’ or ‘do you like (the colour) red?’ Illnesses are also treated as abstract nouns: el sida ‘AIDS’, la diabetes ‘diabetes’, el sarampión ‘measles’, la gripe (often la gripa in Mexico) ‘flu’. (2)  These rules apply especially when the noun is the subject of a verb. The definite article must not be omitted in the following sentences (but see 3.2.7 for the omission of the definite article from lists of two or more generic nouns): no me gusta la manzanilla ‘I don’t like camomile’, el azúcar es malo para los dientes ‘sugar is bad for the teeth’, los portátiles cuestan más ‘laptops cost more’. But when the noun is the object of a verb or is preceded by a preposition, the definite article is sometimes omitted. See 3.2.10 for examples. (3)  Sentences like me gusta el vino, me gustan las cerezas are ambiguous out of context: ‘I like the wine/the cherries’ or ‘I like wine/cherries’. Context or intonation makes the meaning clear, or a demonstrative – este vino ‘this wine’, estas cerezas ‘these cherries’ – can be used for the first meaning. (4)  Use of a singular count noun with a generic meaning is more frequent in Spanish than in English, where it may sound old-fashioned: el español, cuando está de vacaciones, come mucho ­marisco ‘Spaniards, when they’re on holiday, eat a lot of shellfish’, rather than ‘the Spaniard, when on holiday, eats . . .’. (5) The Academy disapproves of the recent tendency to omit the definite article after mayoría ‘majority’ and la mayor parte ‘the greater part of’, as in la mayoría/mayor parte de personas for la mayoría/mayor parte de las personas ‘the majority/greater part of persons/people’.

3.2.7  Omission of the definite article in lists When two or more nouns follow one another all the definite articles may be omitted, especially, but not exclusively, in literary style. One must say los hombres se exaltan al escucharlo ‘(the) men get worked up listening to him’, but one can say hombres y mujeres se exaltan al escucharlo (EP, Mex.) ‘men and women get excited . . .’. Further examples: el debate entre ciencia y religión the debate between science and religion Ingleses y franceses creyeron que la The English and French thought that    sola exhibición de sus imponentes,    merely displaying their imposing ships   naves bastaría para . . . (La Nación, Arg.)   would be enough to . . . Tanto tripulación como oficialía se habían Both crew and officers had become his convertido en sus amigos (SG, Mex.)      friends A similar rule exists in literary English: ‘but dog and cat soon fell out’ is the same as ‘but the dog and (the) cat soon fell out’.

3.2.8 Omission of the definite article before partitive nouns (seeGlossary) The definite article is not used before nouns that refer only to part of something or to some ­members of a set, i.e.:

36 The definite article (a)  before partitive mass (uncountable) nouns, e.g. substances and abstractions: Quiero cerveza I want (some) beer Eso necesita valor That needs courage No hay agua There isn’t any water/There’s no water Su móvil no tiene cobertura His/her/your mobile/cell phone has no   signal But the difference between generic and partitive mass nouns is not always obvious, as in the sentence no como carne ‘I don’t eat meat’, where carne apparently refers to meat in general. See 3.2.10 for further comments on the subject. (b)  Before partitive count nouns, i.e. countable nouns that in English could normally be preceded by ‘some’: No se te olvide traer clavos Incluso nos dieron flores Llevan armas

Don’t forget to bring (some) nails They even gave us (some) flowers They’re carrying weapons

(1)  French and Italian regularly use ‘of’ before partitive nouns: il a des roses rouges/ha delle rose rosse = tiene rosas rojas ‘(s)he’s got some red roses’. De is not used in this way in Spanish, although it may occasionally appear before words meaning ‘this’ or ‘that’ to make it clear that ‘some of’ rather than ‘all of’ is meant. Compare tráenos de ese vino tan bueno que nos serviste ayer ‘bring us some of that really good wine you served us yesterday’, and tráenos ese vino tan bueno que nos serviste ayer ‘bring us that really good wine you served us yesterday’.

3.2.9  Definite article required before nouns modified by a qualifier As in English, a noun that does not require the definite article when it stands alone usually requires it when it is qualified or modified by a following word or phrase. Compare Estamos hablando de religión Está hecho de oro

We’re talking (about) religion It’s made of gold

and Estamos hablando de la religión de los antiguos We’re talking about the religion of the   persas   ancient Persians Está hecho del oro que trajeron de las It’s made from the gold they brought from   Indias   the Indies Important: this rule overrides any of the rules of article omission that follow. However, a qualifier does not always make a noun specific: the resulting noun phrase may still be generic in its own right and have no definite article, and these nouns can only be learned with practice: Está hecho de oro macizo Estamos hablando de religión antigua No hablo con traidores de su patria

It’s made of solid gold We’re talking about ancient religion I don’t talk to traitors to their own country

3.2.10  Apparent exceptions to the rules outlined in 3.2.6 The general rule given at 3.2.6 – that generic nouns require the definite article – has exceptions. For example, in yo no como carne ‘I don’t eat meat’, carne is apparently generic since it refers to meat in general. These exceptions – or apparent exceptions – usually occur in the following contexts:

3.2  Uses and omission of the definite article


(a) After prepositions. Nouns following prepositions are often really partitive: they denote a part or an aspect of the thing they refer to. If this is the case, they take no definite article: Le gusta salir con ingleses (one or a few (S)he likes going out with English people    at a time, not the whole species) Ella siempre acaba hablando de sexo (SP, Sp., She always ends up talking about sex   dialogue) . . . las polémicas sobre diálogos regionales . . . the disputes about regional talks with    con la guerrilla (El Tiempo, Col.)    the guerrilla forces El Ministerio de Aviación/Agricultura The Ministry of Aviation/Agriculture (b)  After certain verbs, e.g. of consuming, desiring, producing: Los lagartos comen moscas Claro que uso jabón Queremos paz

Lizards eat flies Of course I use soap We want peace

Important: but if the verb really affects the whole of its object in general – usually the case with verbs of human emotion like ‘love’, ‘hate’, ‘admire’, ‘criticize’, ‘censure’, ‘reject’, etc. – then the definite article is obligatory: Odio las películas violentas Me encanta el helado de vainilla Hay que combatir el terrorismo

I hate violent movies I love vanilla ice cream Terrorism must be fought

(c)  In many adverbial phrases The definite article is not used in numerous adverbial phrases involving a preposition plus a noun: la confusión por antonomasia a cántaros por avión en tren/coche Estamos aquí de observadores De niña yo solo/sólo hablaba catalán

confusion personified/par excellence in pitcherfuls by plane by train/car We’re here as observers As a little girl I only spoke Catalan

(1)  Omission or retention of the definite article with abstract and mass nouns after a preposition like de or sobre often depends on the point of view of the speaker. One can say either publicó tres artículos sobre poesía ‘(s)he published three articles on poetry’ or . . . sobre la poesía ‘on Poetry’. The latter implies the universal concept ‘Poetry’; the former implies ‘aspects of poetry’. The d ­ ifference is slight and the strong modern tendency is to avoid using the definite article, although withnouns referring to more abstract concepts the definite article is more likely, as in una conferencia sobre la ­libertad ‘a lecture on Freedom’. For further details about omission after the preposition de, see 3.2.11. (2)  Spanish usage differs from French with respect to the names of ministers and ministries: el mi­nistro de agricultura/le ministre de l’agriculture, el Ministerio de Defensa/le Ministère de la Défense,etc.

3.2.11  The definite article after de Important: when two nouns are joined by de to express a new concept, the definite article is not normally used before the second noun. Compare la rueda del coche ‘the wheel of/from the car’ and una rueda de coche ‘a car wheel’, la carne de la vaca ‘the meat of the cow’ and la carne de vaca ‘beef’, los sombreros de las mujeres ‘the women’s hats’ and los sombreros de mujer ‘women’s hats’. Further examples:

38 The definite article el dolor de muelas toothache la Edad de (la) Piedra, but usually the Stone Age, the Iron Age   la Edad del Hierro un tren de mercancías a freight train la bandeja de entrada in-box (in email software) el reconocimiento de voz voice recognition (computing) . . . la tristeza de flor de cementerio que dan . . . the cemetery-flower sadness that   los lirios (MP, Arg.)    irises give off English often expresses these combinations by a compound noun: compare la noche de la fiesta ‘the night of the party’ and la noche de fiesta ‘party night’. (1)  Latin-American Spanish, particularly in newspapers, sometimes uses de constructions without the definite article that are rejected in Spain, cf. el problema de orden público es cada día más grave (El Tiempo, Col., Sp. el problema del orden público) ‘the problem of public order gets more serious every day’.

3.2.12  Use of the definite article after haber (‘there is’/‘there are’) Spanish does not often use the definite article after haber: hay agua ‘there’s water’, hubo una tormenta ‘there was a storm’, but ahí está el cartero ‘there’s the postman’/‘the postman’s arrived’. See 34.2.1 note 4.

3.2.13 Omission of the definite articles in titles of books, films, etc. In titles of books and films, etc., the definite article is often omitted before nouns that are not felt to be unique entities (for the non-use of capital letters in book titles, see 44.3.2d): Política y estado bajo el régimen de Franco Casa de campo, de José Donoso Vida de don Quijote

Politics and the State under the Franco Regime The Country House, by José Donoso The Life of Don Quixote

But with unique things or proper names the definite article is retained: La casa verde, de Mario Vargas Llosa La Iglesia en España hoy y mañana

The Green House, by Mario Vargas Llosa The Church in Spain today and tomorrow

3.2.14  Omission of definite articles in headlines In Spain the grammar of headlines is fairly normal, but Latin-American headlines often follow the English practice of omitting articles (for the word order of these Latin-American headlines see 42.9.1 note 3): Gobierno no toca alta burocracia (La Época, Mex.) Government leaves Top Bureaucrats  untouched Urbes italianas prohíben festejos con pirotecnia Italian cities ban celebrations with fireworks   (El Mercurio, Mex. Urbes = ciudades in Spain)    Afirma divorcios producen temblor ‘Divorces cause Earthquake’ Claim   (Última Hora, Dom. Rep.) This kind of language is spreading to Spain. The NGLE 15.12f notes examples like Presunto ­delincuente hiere a dos policías (El País, Sp.) ‘alleged criminal wounds two policemen’.

3.2  Uses and omission of the definite article


3.2.15  The definite article with names of unique entities Use of the definite article with unique entities (things of which there is only one) is more or less the same as in English, e.g. la Casa Blanca ‘the White House’, el Atlántico ‘the Atlantic’, la Virgen ‘the Virgin’, el Camino de Santiago ‘the Milky Way’ (la Vía Láctea, lit. ‘St James’s Way’, also the name of the pilgrims’ route), la estratosfera ‘the stratosphere’, el sol ‘the Sun’; but, as in English, no article is used with names of planets: Mercurio, Júpiter, Venus, etc. For the definite article with names of languages and countries, see 3.2.16 and 3.2.17. (1)  Spanish uses the definite article with mountains, volcanoes and with Heaven and Hell: el Infierno ‘Hell’, el Cielo/el Paraíso ‘Heaven’/‘Paradise’, el Everest, el Vesubio. (2)  As in English, the definite article is not used with personal names as opposed to epithets, titles or nicknames: Dios ‘God’, Cristo ‘Christ’ (rarely el Cristo), Jesucristo ‘Jesus Christ’, Satanás ‘Satan’, but el Salvador ‘the Saviour’, la Inmaculada ‘the Blessed Virgin’, ‘el Che’ ‘“Che” Guevara’. For the definite article before ordinary personal names see 3.2.21 below.

3.2.16  Definite article with names of languages Usage is capricious and departures from the following rules may occur: (a)  no article after en, or, usually, after saber, aprender, hablar: en español, en inglés Sé quechua Aprendo alemán/Habla griego

in Spanish, in English I know Quechua I’m learning German/(S)he speaks Greek

But when the verb is modified by an adverb the definite article is often used: habla correctamente el francés ‘(s)he speaks French fluently’, hablaba bien el italiano (JLB, Arg.). (b)  Optional definite article after entender ‘understand’, escribir ‘write’, estudiar ‘study’: Entiendo (el) inglés Escribe (el) italiano

I understand English (S)he writes Italian

(c)  After other prepositions, the definite article is used: traducir del español al francés to translate from Spanish to French una palabra del griego a word from Greek Comparado con el ruso, el español Compared with Russian, Spanish seems   parece poco complicado   uncomplicated (d) After de meaning ‘of’, the definite article is used only if the whole language is meant: curso de español ‘Spanish course’ (really only ‘aspects of Spanish’), but dificultades del español ‘difficulties of Spanish’ (in general), las sutilezas del japonés ‘the subtleties of Japanese’. (e) After dominar ‘master’, chapurrear ‘speak badly’, destrozar ‘murder’ and other verbs not discussed above, the definite article is used: domina perfectamente el portugués ‘(s)he’s a complete master of Portuguese’, chapurrea el inglés ‘(s)he speaks broken English’. (f)  If the language is the subject of a verb it requires the definite article: el francés es difícil ‘French is difficult’, el español es una lengua hermosa ‘Spanish is a beautiful language’.

40 The definite article (g)  If the language is qualified by a following word or phrase, the definite article is required: el español de Colombia ‘the Spanish of Colombia’, el inglés que se habla en Tennessee ‘the English spoken in Tennessee’.

3.2.17  Definite article with names of countries This is problematic since spoken usage varies and is often out of line with modern written styles. Unless the definite article is part of the name (as in El Salvador), El País orders its journalists to write all countries without the definite article except la India and los Países Bajos ‘the Low Countries’, and use of the definite article is in decline, especially in Spain. The rules of everyday spoken language seem to be: (a) Obligatory: El Salvador (capital E because the El is part of the name), los Países Bajos ‘the Low Countries’, La República Checa ‘Czech Republic’, la República Dominicana. (b)  Optional but frequently seen: el Camerún ‘Cameroon’, el Reino Unido ‘the United Kingdom’ (but the article is nowadays often dropped), los Estados Unidos, la India, el Líbano ‘(the) Lebanon’, la China, el Oriente Medio ‘The Middle East’, el Senegal, el Sudán, el Yemen. (c)  Optional: (la) Arabia Saudí, (la) Argentina (article usual in Argentina), (el) Brasil, (el) Canadá, (el) Ecuador, (las) Filipinas ‘the Philippines’, la Guinea, (el) Irak, (el) Irán, (el) Japón, (el) Nepal, (el) Pakistán, (el) Paraguay, (el) Perú, (el) Tíbet, (el) Uruguay, (el) Vietnam. The tendency in Spain is to omit the definite article, but it is often seen in Latin America. Other countries do not take the definite article: tres años en Australia/Egipto/Noruega ‘three years in Australia/Egypt/Norway’. (1)  ‘The United States’ is either los Estados Unidos, plural agreement or, more usually, Estados Unidos, singular agreement and no article – the only form allowed in El País (Sp.). Gran Bretaña ‘Great Britain’ does not take the definite article. (2)  In older texts, particularly in solemn diplomatic language, names of countries occasionally appear with the definite article: la Francia, la Inglaterra, etc. (3)  All place names require the definite article when they are qualified or restricted by a following adjective, phrase or clause, unless the qualifying word is part of an official name: la España contemporánea ‘contemporary Spain’, la Suecia que yo conocía ‘the Sweden I knew’; but en Australia Occidental ‘in Western Australia’, en Irlanda del Norte ‘in Northern Ireland’. (4) Names of some well-known regions, as opposed to countries, tend to be variable: (la) Europa Central, América del Sur, the definite article being less usual nowadays.

3.2.18  Definite article with provinces, regions, cities and towns Some place names include the definite article as an inseparable feature: La Rioja El Cairo la Habana, less often   simply Habana

La Haya the Hague la Mancha La Meca Mecca, or   simply Meca

La Paz la Plata La Coruña or simply   Coruña

Los Ángeles

Otherwise the definite article is not used, unless 3.2.9 applies, as happens in el Buenos Aires de hoy ‘Buenos Aires today’, la Roma de Cicerón ‘Cicero’s Rome’, etc.

3.2  Uses and omission of the definite article


3.2.19  Definite article before names of streets, roads, squares, etc. The definite article is used before roads, squares, avenues, lanes, alleys and similar places: Vive en la plaza/la calle de la Independencia la Embajada de los EE.UU., en la avenida   Wilson (Caretas, Pe.)

(S)he lives in Independence Square/Street the US Embassy on Wilson Avenue

(1) La calle de and similar phrases are often omitted in speech: vive en Independencia, . . . en Serrano 29, etc.

3.2.20  Definite articles with days of the week, months and years (a)  The definite article appears with days of the week: Llegan el martes cerrado los viernes Los domingos las calles están casi vacías    (MB, Ur., dialogue) Odio los lunes El miércoles es cuando habrá menos gente a partir del domingo

They’re arriving on Tuesday closed on Friday(s) On Sundays the streets are nearly empty I hate Mondays Wednesday’s the day there’ll be fewest people after Sunday/from Sunday on

(b)  The definite article is not used with the names of months, but it is used with the words mes ‘month’, año ‘year’, mañana ‘morning’, tarde ‘afternoon/evening’, noche ‘night’, and madrugada ‘dawn’, except in phrases like a fin (less commonly a finales) de mes ‘at the end of the month’, a principios de año ‘at the beginning of the year’: (c)  With years preceded by a preposition, the definite article is usually omitted – en 2018 – although with shortened years the definite article is used: en el 92 ‘in ‘92’. When the year is thesubject of a verb the definite article is usual: el 2017 fue un año difícil ‘2017 was a difficult year’. (1)  The definite article is not used when the day is the predicate of ser ‘to be’, as in hoy es lunes. But if ser means ‘to happen’, the definite article appears: fue el sábado por la tarde ‘it was/happened on Saturday afternoon’. When the day of the week is preceded by de meaning ‘of’, the definite article is used: ocurrió en la noche del viernes ‘it happened on Friday night’. Compare trabajo de lunes a jueves ‘I work from Mondays to Thursdays’. (2)  The definite article is also not used in dates: lunes 18 de octubre de 2021 ‘Monday (the) 18th of October 2021’.

3.2.21  Definite article with personal names The definite article sometimes appears before the surname of very famous women: la Loren, la Callas, la Pardo Bazán, tengo que estar en Nueva York para el funeral de la Garbo (TM, Sp., dialogue) ‘I have to be in New York for Greta Garbo’s funeral’. But it is not used in this way before men’s surnames. Use of the definite article before first names, e.g. la María, la Josefa, el Mario, is considered substandard or regional, unless the name is qualified, as in la simpática Inés ‘the kindly Inés’. The definite article usually appears before nicknames: el Che nunca fue derrotado ‘“Che” (Guevara)

42 The definite article was never defeated’ (Cuba Internacional, Cu.), detuvieron a Ramón Pérez “el Duque” ‘they arrested Ramón Perez “the Duke”’ (notorious criminals usually have aliases or nicknames). (1)  In the Spanish of Chile and Catalonia use of the definite article before first names is common, even in educated speech, e.g. el Mario, la Dorotea, but foreign learners should avoid this since it may suggest the person is notorious. Students of Portuguese should also avoid the definite article: o António quer um café = Antonio quiere un café.

3.2.22  Definite article with sports teams The masculine article is used before sports teams: el Granada ‘Granada FC’, el Manchester United, el Real Madrid, all masculine because of underlying el equipo ‘team’.

3.2.23  Definite article before nouns of family relationship Abuelo/abuela takes the definite article: el abuelo no parecía dispuesto a soltarme (SP, Sp.) ‘grandfather didn’t seem inclined to let me go’, la abuelita llamó a un sacerdote (AM, Mex., dialogue) ‘grandma called a priest’. Tío/tía ‘uncle/aunt’ also takes the definite article: el tío Enrique casi da un manotazo sobre la mesa (SP, Sp.) ‘uncle Enrique nearly slapped the table with his hand’. But the definite article is not used by everyone when referring to their own relatives: le di un beso a tía Julia ‘I kissed aunt Julia’ (but a la tía is common). Latin-American usage also seems to be uncertain, although it overwhelmingly favours use of the definite article: La tía Julia y el escribidor (title of novel by MVLl, Pe.) ‘Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter’, la tía Verónica era una niña de ojos profundos y labios delgados (AM, Mex.) ‘Aunt Veronica was a girl with deep eyes and thin lips’. In rural areas tío/tía may be used before the first names of local worthies: el tío José/la tía Paca ‘old José’/‘old Paca’. (1)  The definite article is not normally used with papá, mamá: dale un beso a papá ‘give daddy a kiss’ (not al papá).

3.2.24  Definite article with personal titles The definite article is used before the title of a person being talked about: el señor Moreira, el profesor Smith, el general Rodríguez, el presidente Trump, el doctor Fleming, el padre Blanco ‘Father Blanco’. It is also used to refer to a couple: los señores Barral ‘Mr and Mrs Barral’. But it is not used if the person is directly spoken to: pase usted, señor Sender/señor Presidente/padre Blanco ‘come in MrSender/Mr President/Father Blanco’. The definite article is not used before don, doña, fray, san, santa, sor, or before foreign titles like míster, monsieur, herr: don Miguel, fray Bentos, santa Teresa, sor Juana, míster Smith, etc. Note that these titles are not written with capital letters. For the military forms of address mi general ‘General’, mi coronel ‘Colonel’ see 9.3.3. (1)  Don/doña are sometimes used – but much less than in the past – before the first names, or the first name followed by one or both surnames, of older persons to show respect, and on envelopes (less now than formerly): señor don Miguel Ramírez, doña Josefa, don Miguel. The first name must be included after don, so not simply *don Ramírez.

3.2  Uses and omission of the definite article


3.2.25  Definite article in apposition The definite article is usually omitted in apposition (see Glossary) when the following phrase is non-restrictive – i.e. it explains but does not limit the meaning of the previous phrase: Madrid, capital de España Madrid, the capital of Spain Lázaro Conesal, propietario del hotel Lázaro Conesal, the owner of the hotel   (MVM, Sp.) Ricardo Balbín, jefe de la Unión Cívica Ricardo Balbín, head of the Radical Civic Radical (MSQ, Arg.)   Union Amilpa, nuevo jefe de la CTM (JA, Mex.) Amilpa, the new head of the CTM    (Confederation of Mexican Workers) But it is retained: (a)  if the following phrase is restrictive, i.e. it is used to remove a possible confusion of identity: Miró, el autor ‘Miró the author’ (not the painter); Córdoba, la ciudad argentina ‘Cordoba, the Argentine city’ (not the Spanish one); (b)  usually if the apposition is qualified by a following word or adjectival phrase: Javier Marcos, el arquitecto que diseñó las dos fuentes ‘Javier Marcos, the architect who designed the two fountains’.

3.2.26  Definite article with numbered nouns Unlike English, nouns identified by a number take the definite article: Vivo en el piso (Lat. Am. el apartamento/el   departamento) 38 (piso = ‘ground’   in Lat. Am.) Vive en la calle Serrano, en el 23/en el 23 de    la calle Serrano (but vive en Serrano 23) una disposición del artículo 277 de la Constitución unas fotos del 93 el diez por ciento de los peruanos

I live in apartment 38 (S)he lives at 23 Serrano Street a provision of Art. 277 of the Constitution some photos from 1993 ten per cent of Peruvians

For more on this subject see 11.11.

3.2.27  Definite article in phrases denoting place The following often appear with the definite article in Spanish whereas their English equivalents do not. Brackets show that the article is optional: en (la) cama in bed en (el) Palacio at the Palace a/en/de la iglesia to/in/from church en la televisión on television (la optional) al/en el/del cielo/infierno to/in/from Heaven/   Hell

en el espacio in space debajo de la tierra (but bajo tierra) underground al/en el/del hospital to/in/from hospital en la cárcel/en la iglesia/ in prison/at church en el colegio/en el trabajo at school/at work

Many other phrases resemble English, e.g. sobre cubierta ‘on deck’, en contexto ‘in context’, salir de (la) prisión ‘to get out of prison’, en/a clase ‘in/to class’, a misa ‘to Mass’, sobre cubierta (sobre la cubierta in Latin America) ‘on deck’. A/en/de casa ‘at/in/from home’ are often expressed by a/en/ de la casa in Latin America and sometimes also in Spain.

44 The definite article (1)  Many speakers differentiate en cama ‘in bed sick’ and en la cama ‘in bed resting’, but the distinction is not universal.

3.2.28  Definite article after the verb jugar Jugar takes a plus the definite article in Spain: jugar a la pelota ‘to play ball/with a ball’, jugar al ajedrez/a las cartas/al escondite ‘to play chess/cards/hide-and-seek’. The Academy (DPD, 382) seems to disapprove of Catalans omitting the definite article, but accepts it as valid in many parts of Latin America, cf. mi padre no juega golf y mi madre no juega bridch (LO, Cu., dialogue; the usual spelling is bridge) ‘my father doesn’t play golf and my mother doesn’t play bridge’, jugar tenis con él era como un consejo de ministros (GGM, Col., dialogue) ‘playing tennis with him was like (being at) a Cabinet Meeting’. But ya sea fumando una pipa o jugando al ajedrez . . . (MP, Arg., dialogue) ‘either smoking a pipe or playing chess’.

3.2.29  Definite article with personal pronouns The definite article is required after first- and second-person plural pronouns in phrases like the following: ustedes los uruguayos ‘you Uruguayans’, nosotros los pobres ‘we poor people’, vosotras/ ustedes las españolas ‘you Spanish women . . .’ It is also used when the pronoun is not present: Los ingleses siempre ocultáis vuestras You English always hide your emotions   emociones Las mujeres de los mineros siempre estamos We miners’ wives are always on   en vilo pensando en los hombres    tenterhooks thinking about the men   (ALS, Sp., dialogue)

3.2.30  Colloquial use of la de In familiar language, la de may mean ‘lots of’: . . . con la de números de abogados que   vienen en la guía . . . . . . la de veces que han dicho eso . . . la de lágrimas que solté (LS, Ch., dialogue)

. . . with all the dozens of lawyers’ numbers    there are in the phone book . . . . . . the number of times they’ve said that! . . . the quantity of tears I shed . . .

4 The indefinite article The main points discussed in this chapter are: • The forms and uses of the indefinite article (Section 4.1) • Uses of unos/unas (Section 4.2) The Spanish indefinite article, un/una corresponds to the English words ‘a’/‘an’.

4.1 Forms and uses of the indefinite article 4.1.1 Forms of the Spanish indefinite article Masculine








Important: un is used before feminine nouns beginning with a stressed a, e.g. un arma ‘a weapon’, un águila ‘an eagle’, un haba ‘a bean’. See 3.1.2.

4.1.2 Use of the indefinite article: general The Spanish indefinite article is used much like ‘a’ or ‘an’ in English, but there are two important differences: (a) it is not used before singular countable nouns in certain contexts described below at 4.1.5ff, e.g. tengo coche ‘I’ve got a car’, Mario es ingeniero ‘Mario’s an engineer’, lo abrió sin llave ‘(s)he opened it without a key’, es mentira ‘it’s a lie’. (b) It can appear in the plural: unos pantalones ‘a pair of trousers/US pants’, son unos genios incomprendidos ‘they’re misunderstood geniuses’. See 4.2 for details. (1) Un ‘a’ must be carefully distinguished from uno ‘one’ when a masculine singular noun or adjective is involved. Compare un verde ‘a Green’ (i.e. environmentalist) and uno verde ‘a green one’; un parecido ‘a resemblance’, uno parecido ‘a similar one’. The difference is not made in the feminine or in the plural: una verde = ‘a female “Green”/environmentalist’ or ‘a green one’.

4.1.3 The indefinite article in French and Spanish The French and Spanish indefinite articles compared French


The plural indefinite article is des, cf. des gants, ce sont des clowns, je lui ai donné des roses

The plural is unos/unas: unos guantes, son unos payasos, but omitted in many cases: le di (unas) rosas. See 3.2.8, 4.2.2

46 The indefinite article French


De used in the negative: elle ne porte pas de casque, je n’ai pas de crayon

No article: no lleva casco, no tengo lápiz

Not used after ‘to be’ before professions: je suis professeur, but used after other verbs, e.g. il a une femme

Same: soy profesor, and omitted in many other cases, e.g. tiene esposa. See 4.16ff.

Usually required before each noun: un homme et une femme

Same: see next section

4.1.4  Indefinite article before more than one noun When more than one noun occurs in a sequence, the indefinite article is necessary before eachnoun. English often omits the second article: un hombre y una mujer ‘a man and (a)woman’(*unhombrey mujer is a cross between a man and a woman), compré una máquina de escribir y una papelera para mi despacho ‘I bought a typewriter and wastepaper basket for my office’. But omission occurs when the nouns refer to the same thing or to different aspects of the same thing: una actriz y cantante an actress and singer (same woman) un cuchillo y abrelatas a combined knife and tin-opener Este libro está escrito con una maestría y (una) This novel is written with unusual skill   delicadeza insólitas   and delicacy

4.1.5  Omission before singular nouns: general Un/una is often omitted before singular count nouns. This happens whenever the generic or universal features of the noun are being emphasized. Compare Pepe tiene coche ‘Pepe’s got a car’ (like many people) and Pepe tiene un coche francés ‘Pepe’s got a French car’. Section 4.1.7 covers some of the cases in which this type of omission occurs.

4.1.6 Indefinite article not used before professions, occupations, ­social status, sex Important: un/una is not used before nouns which describe profession, occupation, social status, and it is often omitted before nouns denoting sex. In these phrases, the noun can be thought of as a sort of adjective that simply indicates a general type: Soy piloto/Son buzos Es soltero/Es casada (compare está casada    ‘she’s married’; see 33.4.1a) Se hizo detective . . . y aunque Alejandra era mujer (ES, Arg.) . . .

I’m a pilot/They’re divers He’s a bachelor/She’s a married woman (S)he became a detective . . . and although Alejandra was a woman

(1)  Nouns denoting personal qualities rather than membership of a profession or other group require the indefinite article: es carnicero ‘he’s a butcher (by trade)’, es un carnicero ‘he’s a butcher (i.e. murderous)’; es Supermán ‘he is Superman’, es un supermán ‘he’s a superman’; el sargento se decía: “No es un ladrón. Es un loco” (MVLl, Pe.) ‘the sergeant said to himself “he’s not a thief. He’s a madman.”’ (2)  If a noun of this type is qualified it usually becomes specific (non-generic) and therefore requires the indefinite article. Compare es actor ‘he’s an actor’ and es un actor que nunca encuentra trabajo ‘he’s an actor who never finds work’; me han dicho que usted es un hombre que se ha quedado

4.1  Forms and uses of the indefinite article


solo (ABE, Pe., dialogue) ‘they tell me that you are a man who has ended up alone’. But the resulting noun phrase may still be a recognized profession or generic type, so no definite article will be used: soy profesor de español. See 4.1.9 for discussion. (3)  The definite article is used if it means ‘one of . . .’: —¿Quién es ese/ése que ha saludado? —Es un profesor/es uno de los profesores ‘“Who was that who said hello?” “He’s one of the teachers”’.

4.1.7 Omission of the indefinite article with ser and nouns not ­included in 4.1.6 Omission of the indefinite article after ser is frequent (a) in certain common phrases, e.g. hoy es fiesta; (b) in literary styles: a rare English counterpart is the optional omission of ‘a’ with ‘part’: ‘this is (a) part of our heritage’ esto es (una) parte de nuestro patrimonio. Omission is more common in negative sentences and apparently more frequent in European Spanish than in Latin-American. In the following phrases omission seems to be optional, and it produces a slightly more literary or emphatic tone: Es (una) coincidencia Es (una) cuestión de dinero Es (una) víctima de las circunstancias

It’s a coincidence It’s a question of money (S)he’s a victim of circumstances

But the indefinite article is retained in many common phrases like es una lata (colloquial) ‘it’s a nuisance’, es una pena/lástima ‘it’s a pity’, es un problema ‘it’s a problem’, es un desastre ‘it/(s)he’s a disaster’, ha sido un éxito ‘it was a success’. Omission may occur after a negative verb even though it is not usual after the positive verb: No es molestia/problema No es exageración No es desventaja

It’s no bother/problem It’s no exaggeration It’s not a disadvantage

In the following three cases, omission produces a literary or formal effect: La codorniz es # ave tiernísima (MD, Sp.), The quail is an extremely tender bird (to eat) Es # mar de veras (MVLl Pe., dialogue) It’s (a) real sea ¡Esta/ésta es # cuestión que a ustedes no les This is an affair that has nothing to   importa! (JI, Mex., dialogue)    do with you! In all the above examples the appropriate gender of un or una could have been used at the points marked with #, but the original texts did not use the article. (1)  If the following noun is not generic but merely implies the possession of certain qualities un/ una must be used: el hombre es un lobo para el hombre ‘man is a wolf to man’ (but not a member of the wolf species), Mercedes es un terremoto ‘Mercedes is an earthquake’ (i.e. a hell-raiser), está hecho una foca ‘he’s got really fat’ (la foca = ‘seal’, the animal). (2)  Omission of the indefinite article before a qualified noun tends to produce an archaic or literary effect, or it may make the sentence sound like stage instructions as in entra una señora con sombrero verde con plumas de avestruz ‘a lady with a green hat with ostrich feathers comes in’, where un sombrero verde would nowadays be much more normal. Where Unamuno wrote, in the early twentieth century, era un viejecillo . . . con levitón de largos bolsillos ‘he was a little old man in a large frock-coat with deep pockets’, a modern writer might prefer un levitón. (3)  In formal literary styles, omission of un/una is normal in definitions when the subject comes first: novela es toda obra de ficción que . . . ‘a novel is any work of fiction that . . .’.

48 The indefinite article

4.1.8  Omission of un/una after other verbs Spanish does not use un/una after a number of verbs such as tener ‘to have’, comprar ‘to buy’, sacar‘to take/draw out’ (with cinema tickets, etc. ‘to buy’ or ‘to book’), buscar ‘to look for’, llevar ‘to wear’, haber ‘there is/are’, when their direct object is a noun referring to things of which one would normally have or carry only one: umbrella, pen, nanny, valet, cook, hat, etc. Omission is normal when the object is something typical or expected. As the NGLE 15.13e points out, one would say María tiene perro ‘María has a dog’, but María tiene una tortuga ‘María has a tortoise’. Manuel tiene pareja Pepe’s got a partner (female or male) Mi ordenador/computadora tiene ratón óptico My computer has an optical mouse Hay mercado/subasta There’s a market/auction Vamos a buscarle novia Let’s look for a girlfriend for him Siempre lleva anillo (S)he always wears a ring Barcelona tiene puerto y parque y tranvía y Barcelona has a port, park, tramway, metro,    metro y autobús y cine (LG, Sp.)    buses and cinema(s) Hubo quien se ofendió y sacó pistola (MVLl, Pe.) One person took offence and pulled a gun Ya he sacado entrada I’ve already got a ticket* *For the various Spanish equivalents of ‘ticket’, see 44.1.5 note 1. (1)  Un/una is usual if the object has special characteristics: llevaba (una) falda blanca ‘she was wearing a white skirt’, tenía . . . una carita de chico pecoso . . . (FU, Sp.) ‘she had a cute face like a freckled boy’s’. But the indefinite article does not always exclude the possibility of a generic meaning. The NGLE 15.9e points out that siempre escribe sus novelas con un bolígrafo ‘(s)he always writes his/her novels with a ball-point pen’ either means ‘with a certain ball-point pen’ or ‘with any ball-point pen’; . . . con bolígrafo limits the meaning to ‘any ball-point pen’. Note also tengo móvil desde hace años ‘I’ve had a mobile phone/cell phone (one or more) for years’, where un móvil could imply one specific phone. (2)  Use of un/una with unqualified nouns may hint at some suppressed comment: tiene un coche/ una casa . . . ‘you should see his car/house . . .’, tiene unos ojos . . . ‘you should see his/her eyes . . .’. This may sound admiring or insinuating when applied to people, e.g. marido ‘husband’, novio ‘boyfriend’, novia ‘girlfriend’, e.g. tiene una mujer . . . ‘he’s got a wife (and is she . . .)’. (3)  If it would be normal to have more than one of the things denoted, or if the idea of ‘one’ isrelevant, the indefinite article must be used: tiene mujer y un hijo (EP, Mex., dialogue) ‘he’s got awife and one child’, ¿tienes un dólar? (obviously not *¿tienes dólar?) ‘do you have a dollar?’, tieneun novio en Burgos y otro en Huelva ‘(s)he’s got one boyfriend in Burgos and another in Huelva’.

4.1.9  Retention of indefinite article before qualified nouns When nouns are modified by a clause, phrase or adjective, they become specific and the indefinite article may be obligatory (brackets indicate where it is optional): tengo padre ‘I’ve got a father’ but tengo un padre que es inaguantable ‘I’ve got an unbearable father’, era (un) hombre de costumbres cuidadosas (AM, Mex.) ‘he was a man of prudent customs’, han organizado unas manifestaciones pacíficas ‘they’ve organized peaceful demonstrations’. But if the resulting noun phrase is still generic, the indefinite article may still be omitted: tú eres (un) hombre respetable ‘you’re a respectable man’, es pastor protestante ‘he’s a Protestant minister’, el doctor Urdino es hombre serio, además de buen gerente (El Tiempo, Col.) ‘Doctor Urdino is a serious man as well as a good manager’.

4.1  Forms and uses of the indefinite article


(1) This rule also applies in the plural: es un ejemplo/son unos ejemplos que hemos encontrado en tu novela ‘it’s an example/they’re examples we found in your novel’, en seguida me llené de unos celos juveniles hacia él (FU, Sp.) ‘I was immediately filled with juvenile jealousy towards him’, nos convidó unas galletas de agua con queso fresco (MVLl, Pe., in Spain convidó a unas . . .) ‘he offered us some water biscuits/US crackers with fresh cheese’.

4.1.10  Omission of indefinite article in apposition The indefinite article is not normally used in apposition (see Glossary), at least in literary language: El Español de hoy, lengua en ebullición Spanish Today, a Language in Ferment   (book title) Estuvimos quince días en Acapulco, lugar We spent two weeks in Acapulco, a place   que nunca olvidaré   I’ll never forget Luego fue secuestrado Jorge Money, periodista They then kidnapped JM, a journalist    del diario La Opinión (MSQ, Arg.)    from the daily newspaper La Opinión Buenos Aires, ciudad que no me atrae Buenos Aires, a city that doesn’t   (JLB, Arg., dialogue)   attract me Ahora, a buscar un digno sustituto de Pedro, Now let’s start looking for a worthy    tarea nada fácil (JJA, Mex., dialogue)    substitute for Pedro; not an easy task (1)  But in informal language, or if the noun in apposition is qualified by an adjective or clause, the article may be retained: recurrió a Videla, un militar liberal y antiperonista (MSQ, Arg.) ‘he sought the aid of Videla, a liberal and anti-Peronist member of the military’.

4.1.11  Indefinite article to distinguish nouns from adjectives Many Spanish nouns are indistinguishable in form from adjectives: use of un/una indicates that the noun is meant: Juan es cobarde/Juan es un cobarde Papá es (un) fascista Soy extranjero/un extranjero

John is cowardly/John is a coward Father is a fascist I’m foreign/I’m a foreigner

(1)  Use of the indefinite article often implies a stronger value judgement. Eres cutre (Sp., colloquial = tacaño, avaro) = ‘you’re mean’, eres un cutre = ‘you’re a mean person’; eres tonto ‘you’re silly’, eres un tonto ‘you’re a fool/idiot’; es vaga (Sp., colloquial = perezosa) ‘she’s lazy’, es una vaga ‘she’s a lazy person’. Unos/unas is used in the plural to retain the distinction: son desgraciados ‘they’re unhappy’, son unos desgraciados ‘they’re wretches’ (the meaning changes and is quite strong: un desgraciado = ‘a wretch’, ‘a “creep”’).

4.1.12  Omission after como, a modo/manera de, por, sin, con (a)  The indefinite article is not used after a manera de, a modo de and after como when it means ‘in the capacity of’ or ‘by way of’: a manera de prólogo by way of a prologue a modo de bastón as/like a walking stick como ejemplo as an example Utilicé mi zapato como martillo I used my shoe as a hammer Renunció . . .“como único medio de conseguir He resigned . . . ‘as the only way of achieving   la tranquilidad” (JA, Mex.)    tranquillity’

50 The indefinite article (b)  It is not used after por when it means ‘instead of’, ‘in place of’ or ‘for’ in phrases like: por respuesta le dio un beso ‘(s)he gave him/her a kiss as a reply’, no acepten un No por respuesta. ¿Entendido? (MS. Mex., dialogue) ‘don’t take a “no” for an answer. Understood?’ (c)  It is not usually used after sin without: No vas a cortarlo sin cuchillo A veces se manchaba los anteojos sin marco    (CF, Mex. In Spain los anteojos = las gafas) Ha venido sin camisa un gato sin cola

You won’t cut it without a knife Sometimes he smeared his frameless glasses (S)he’s come without a shirt on a cat without a tail

But if the idea of ‘one’ is emphasized, or, in most cases, if the noun is qualified by an adjective or clause, the indefinite article is required: sin un céntimo ‘without a (single) cent’, sin un amigo a quien contar sus problemas ‘without a friend to tell his problems to’. (d)  It is not used after con when it means ‘wearing’, ‘equipped with’, and in many other adverbial phrases: Siempre va con abrigo una casa con jardín La Esfinge es un león con cabeza de hombre   (JLB, Arg.) Lo escribí con (un) lápiz

(S)he always wears an overcoat a house with a garden The Sphinx is a lion with a man’s head I wrote it with a pencil

4.1.13 Omission in exclamations, after qué, and before tal, medio, cierto, otro, semejante The indefinite article is omitted in the following types of phrase: ¡Extraña coincidencia! ¡Menudo follón! ¡Qué cantidad!/¡qué ruido!/¡qué pena! ¿Cómo ha podido hacer tal/semejante cosa/    una cosa así? media pinta/medio kilo cierta mujer/otra cerveza

What a strange coincidence! What a mess! What a quantity/noise/pity! How could (s)he have done such a thing? half a pint/kilo a certain woman/another beer

See 10.7 for cierto and 10.13 for otro.

4.2  Unos/Unas The Spanish indefinite article can be used in the plural with a variety of meanings (for a comparison of algunos and unos, which may sometimes both mean ‘some’, see 10.4.2. For the pronoun uno, see the Index).

4.2.1  Uses of unos/unas (a)  before numbers, ‘approximately’: Costó unos treinta y cinco dólares It cost about thirty-five dollars . . . y unos cinco minutos después se detuvo   and about five minutes later it stopped   (GGM, Col.)

4.2  Unos/Unas


(b)  before plural nouns, ‘some’ or ‘a few’, or sometimes ‘a set of’: De momento no, pero si me invitas a unas Not right now, but if you buy me a couple   copitas a lo mejor me lo pienso    of drinks, maybe I’ll think about it   (CORPES, Arg.) Todavía tenía unos restos de fe (S)he still had some vestiges of faith Sonreí . . . pero fue peor: unos dientes I smiled, but it was worse: a set of   amarillos aparecieron (CRG, Sp.)    yellow teeth appeared La compañía anunció unos resultados The company announced a set of results    mucho peores de lo que esperaban los    much worse than investors expected   inversores (El País, Sp.) Está a unas calles de sus casas It’s a few streets away from their houses   (La Jornada, Mex.) When used thus it may simply moderate the force of a following noun. It can therefore add a modest note: Mira estas fotos—son unas vistas tomadas Look at these photos – they’re a couple   en Guadalajara   of shots taken in Guadalajara Se sintió viejo, triste, inútil, y con unos He felt old, sad, useless, and with an   deseos de llorar tan urgentes que no pudo    urge to weep that was so urgent that   hablar más (GGM, Col.)    he could speak no more (c)  Before nouns that appear in the plural, unos shows that only one is meant. If the noun denotes symmetrical objects like trousers, binoculars, scissors, or before pairs of articles like gloves, shoes, unos/unas means ‘a pair of’: Me caí por unas escaleras/por una escalera Voy a tomarme unas vacaciones unos pantalones/unas gafas/unas cortinas Llevaba unas botas de ante azul (ES, Mex.)

I fell down some stairs I’m going to have a holiday/vacation a pair of trousers (US pants)/glasses/curtains She was wearing a pair of blue suede boots

(d)  Use of unos/unas may show that the plural noun following is not being used generically: Son payasos Son unos payasos Son zorros Son unos zorros

They’re (circus) clowns They’re (acting like) clowns They’re foxes (species) They’re really cunning/like foxes

(e)  Unos/unas may be needed to show that the following noun is a noun and not an adjective or noun used as an adjective, as in son místicos ‘they’re mystic(al)’, son unos místicos ‘they’re mystics/ day-dreamers’. See 4.1.11 for examples. (1)  Sometimes use of unos makes little difference: el pacifismo debería traducirse en unos compor­ tamientos políticos que no tuviesen ninguna indulgencia con los violentos (La Vanguardia, Sp., unos optional) ‘pacifism ought to be translated into (a set of) patterns of political behaviour which show no indulgence towards the violent’. (2) Unos cannot be used to answer ¿cuántos? ‘how many?’ The NGLE 20.3u notes that to the question ¿cuántos estudiantes había? one can reply algunos, pocos, unos cuantos, varios (‘several’) or with a number, but not *unos, just as one would probably not reply ‘some’ in English. (3)  Unos cuantos/unas cuantas may be used to mean ‘a few’, ‘couple of’: si un mesero tardaba demasiado en traernos la cuenta daba unos cuantos gritos en francés (ES, Mex., dialogue; mesero = camarero

52 The indefinite article in Spain) ‘if a waiter took too long to bring us the bill/check she uttered a couple of shouts inFrench’.

4.2.2  Omission of unos/unas There is a widespread tendency in written Spanish, especially in newspapers, to avoid the use of unos (and of algunos) in sentences of the kind expertos americanos afirman que . . . ‘American experts claim that . . .’. This journalistic trick hides the fact that only a few experts were actually consulted. Spoken Spanish requires los if the meaning is ‘all American experts’, algunos if the meaning is ‘some’. In other cases, omission produces a literary effect: eléctricas letras verdes intermitentes anunciaron la salida del vuelo (MVM, Sp.) ‘flashing green electric lights announced the departure of the flight’, where unas letras verdes would have been more usual. Also días después, una noche, luces verdes parpadearon en los cristales de mis balcones (JMa, Sp.) ‘one night a few days later green lights flickered in my balcony windows’.

5 Adjectives The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • • • •

The forms of adjectives (Section 5.2) Compound adjectives like ‘light blue’, ‘socio-political’ (Sections 5.2 and 5.4) Shortened adjectives (e.g. buen for bueno) (Section 5.5) Agreement of adjectives (Section 5.6) Adjectives of place (e.g. americano, madrileño) (Section 5.7) The suffix -ísimo (Section 5.8) The position of adjectives (Section 5.10) ‘Relational’ adjectives like industria hotelera ‘hotel industry’ (see Glossary) (Section 5.11)

5.1 General remarks about Spanish adjectives (a) Nearly all Spanish adjectives agree with nouns and pronouns in number, and many also agree in gender. They therefore either have two forms, e.g. natural/naturales, or four, e.g. bueno/ buena/buenos/buenas. A few, e.g. macho ‘male’, violeta ‘violet’, are invariable in form. (b) The position of adjectives is a subtle question, the difference between un problema difícil and un difícil problema ‘a difficult problem’ being virtually untranslatable in English. (c) It is necessary to distinguish ‘descriptive’ adjectives (adjetivos calificativos), e.g. ‘a big book’, ‘a blond girl’ from ‘relational’ adjectives (adjetivos relacionales), e.g. ‘a nuclear power-station’, ‘a pedestrian crossing’. See Glossary for definitions. (d) Many, but not all, Spanish adjectives become nouns if a determiner (see Glossary) is added: joven/estas jóvenes ‘young’/‘these young women’; see 5.9b. Nouns can also occasionally be used like adjectives, as in ella es más mujer que Julia ‘she’s more (of a) woman than Julia’ (or ‘more feminine’); see 5.9a. However, adjectives are formed in unpredictable ways from nouns, e.g. automóvil – automovilístico, metal – metálico, leche ‘milk’ lechal, lechoso and lácteo. (e) Some adjectives can be used with object pronouns and the verb ser: me es fácil ‘it’s easy for me’, nos son imprescindibles ‘they’re indispensable to us’; but most cannot. See 14.6.3 for discussion. (f) Adjectival participles ending in -ante, -iente, e.g. vinculante ‘binding’, preocupante ‘worrying’, are discussed under participles at 23.6. (g) The gerund in -ndo is a verb form and must not be used as an adjective: una muñeca que anda or una muñeca andante ‘a walking doll’, not una muñeca andando ‘a doll walking’. For two exceptions to this rule, see 5.3. For a discussion of the Gerund see Chapter 24. (h) Spanish adverbs are invariable in form, even when they look like adjectives: los teléfonos están fatal ‘the phones are in a dreadful state’, estamos mejor ‘we’re feeling better’. See 35.3.3. for discussion.

54 Adjectives

5.2  Forms of adjectives There are three types of Spanish adjectives: • Type 1 adjectives agree in number and gender with the noun or pronoun (5.2.1) • Type 2 adjectives agree in number but not gender (5.2.2) • Type 3 adjectives do not change their form: they are not numerous (5.2.3 and 5.2.4)

5.2.1  Type 1 adjectives (agree in number and gender) These include adjectives that end with: -o, -án, -és, -ín, -ón, -or (with the exceptions like inferior listed below), -ote and -ete. For macho, modelo, oro see 5.2.3–4; for cortés, descortés, montés, afín and marrón see 5.2.2. How to form the feminine singular of type 1 adjectives: Masculine singular

Feminine singular

ends with a vowel


buena ‘good’

ends with a consonant


habladora ‘talkative’

Masculine plural

Feminine plural

ends with a vowel



ends with a consonant



Important: in writing, a final -z is replaced by c before e. Any accent on the final vowel of the masculine singular disappears, as in the cases of inglés, musulmán, pillín in the following chart: Further examples of type 1 adjectives (agreeing in number and gender) Singular














































(1) Español and andaluz are type1 adjectives and have a feminine in -a: española, andaluza, but other adjectives ending in -z or -l belong to type two, e.g. feroz ‘ferocious’, natural. (2) Eleven adjectives that end with -or and have a comparative meaning are type 2, i.e. they have no separate feminine form. These are (singular-plural): anterior – anteriores previous exterior – exteriores outer

inferior – inferiores lower/inferior interior – interiores inner/interior

5.2  Forms of adjectives

mayor – mayores greater/older mejor – mejores better menor – menores minor/smaller/younger peor – peores worse


posterior – posteriores later/subsequent superior – superiores upper/superior ulterior – ulteriores later/further

Exception: la madre superiora ‘mother superior’ of a religious order. (3) Cortés, ‘courteous’ and descortés ‘discourteous’ are type 2 adjectives, i.e. they have no feminine form. Montés ‘wild’, i.e. not domesticated, is often type 2: la cabra montés ‘wild goat’, but also la cabra montesa. These are the only adjectives ending in -és that have no separate feminine form. (4) Marrón ‘brown’ and afín ‘related’/‘similar’ are type 2 and therefore have no feminine form: una camisa marrón, ‘a brown shirt’, ideas afines ‘related ideas’.

5.2.2  Type 2 adjectives (no separate feminine form) No difference between masculine and feminine. This class includes: (a) nearly all adjectives whose masculine singular ends with a consonant, except those ending in -ín, -án, -ón, -or, -és, which are nearly all type 1; (b) adjectives whose singular ends with -a, -e, -ú, -í. The plural is formed: (a) if the adjective ends in a consonant or -í or -ú, by adding -es. In writing, a final -z is replaced by c before e; (b) in all other cases, by adding -s. Singular and plural of type 2 adjectives Singular





socialistas socialist


azules blue


grandes big


grises grey/gray


imponentes imposing


felices happy


útiles useful


nacionales national


iraníes/iranís Iranian


feroces fierce


hindúes (Asian) Indian


ruines despicable


corteses courteous


regulares regular/‘so-so’

(1)  Adjectives ending in -í usually make their plural in -ís in spontaneous speech and often in print, e.g. pakistanís, israelís; but the ending -íes is the formal written form. Some words, e.g. maorí/ maoríes or maorís ‘Maori’ are uncertain, but at the present stage of the language, -íes is still felt to be the correct formal plural of most adjectives ending in -í and is recommended by the Academy although the forms in -ís are now accepted. (2)  If a diminutive or augmentative suffix is added to a type 2 adjective it then becomes type 1: mayor ‘large’/‘older’-mayorcito/mayorcita ‘grown-up’; grande ‘big’-grandote/grandota ‘extremely large’; vulgar ‘vulgar’-vulgarzote/vulgarzota ‘pretty vulgar’. (3) Dominante occasionally forms a very colloquial feminine dominanta ‘bossy’/‘domineering’. A few other popular or slang forms in -nta occur, e.g. atorrante/atorranta (Lat. Am.) ‘lazy’/‘loafer’; but other adjectives ending in -nte are not marked for gender whereas some nouns ending in -nte are. See 1.2.7 and 23.6 for further discussion. The very common colloquial Mexican ­adjective padre ‘great’/‘fantastic’ is type 2: ¡qué padres están esos lentes! (Sp. las gafas) ‘those glasses (i.e. ­spectacles, eye-glasses) look great!’

56 Adjectives

5.2.3  Type 3 adjectives (marked for neither number nor gender) These have only one form and are not numerous: una rata macho ‘male rat’, unas ratas macho ‘male rats’. (See also 2.1.9 for discussion of the plural of compound nouns like perros policía ‘police dogs’, hombres rana ‘frogmen’.) Other examples are: alerta* ‘alert’ (estamos alerta ‘we’re alert’), los puntos clave* ‘the key issue(s)’, encinta* ‘pregnant’ (literary:  Seco recommends plural encintas), estándar ‘standard’, extra* ‘extra’, hembra ‘female’ (see 1.3), gratis ‘free’ (i.e. cost-free); modelo ‘model’, monstruo ‘monster’, sport (los coches sport ‘sports cars’), tabú* ‘taboo’, ultra* ‘extremeright-wing’ (the noun los ultras often = ‘hooligans’). Foreign words like light, heavy and crack (= ­‘brilliant’, ‘outstanding’) are also invariable, as, usually, is porno. (1)  This group is unstable, and the words asterisked often agree in the plural: los problemas claves, los pagos extras, los temas tabúes, nuestra obligación es vivir constantemente alertas (MVLl, Pe.) ‘our obligation is to live constantly alert’. (2) Although they look like nouns, maestro, virgen, perro, gigante and esnob agree like normal adjectives: llaves maestras ‘master keys’, tierras vírgenes ‘virgin territories’, ¡qué vida más perra! ‘what a rotten life!’, berenjenas gigantes ‘giant aubergines’/US ‘eggplants’. (3)  Type 3 (invariable) adjectives also occur in French, cf. des chemises marron ‘brown shirts’, but French words like violète, extra, tabou, modèle, rose have separate plural forms.

5.2.4  Invariable colour adjectives The more common colour adjectives – e.g. negro ‘black’, rojo ‘red’, azul ‘blue’ – are ordinary type 1 or type 2 adjectives. However, any suitable noun, preceded by color, de color or color de, can be used: ojos color (de) humo ‘smoke-coloured eyes’, color barquillo ‘wafer-coloured’. The phrase with color is sometimes dropped and the noun is then used like a type 3 adjective, i.e. it does not agree in number and gender: tres botones naranja/rosa/malva/violeta/esmeralda ‘three orange/pink/ mauve/violet/emerald buttons’, corbatas salmón ‘salmon-colour ties’, cintas fresa ‘strawberry-­ coloured ribbons’. Similar nouns are: añil indigo canela cinnamon azafrán saffron chocolate chocolate beis beige  brown azur azure escarlata scarlet café coffee brown grana dark red

granate dark red lila lilac oro gold paja straw sepia sepia

turquesa turquoise vino wine-coloured violeta violet

(1)  Colloquially, and in some writers, especially Latin-American, naranja, rosa, malva, violeta and a few others may be pluralized: flores malvas ‘mauve flowers’, las uñas violetas ‘violet fingernails’ (CB, Sp.), . . . los ojos violetas eran de Mary (CF, Mex.) ‘the violet eyes were Mary’s’, rayos ultravioletas (Granma, Cu.) ‘ultraviolet rays’. But this generally seems to be avoided, especially in Spain: pliegos de papel azules, malva, rosa, verdes (FU, Sp.) ‘blue, mauve, pink, green folds of paper’, rayos ultravioleta (El País, Sp.), la muchacha de ojos violeta (CF, Mex.) ‘the girl with violet eyes’. Carmesí ‘crimson’ is usually invariable but is occasionally type 2 (i.e. carmesíes), but cf. grandes rosas carmesí (AG, Sp.) ‘large, crimson roses’. (2) These adjectives are not placed before a noun. Como sonreía la rosa mañana . . . (Antonio Machado, Sp., pre-1910) ‘as pink dawn was smiling . . .’ is a rare exception. (3)  Color or de color is usually inserted before the more exotic hues: eran ambas prendas de color salmón (JM, Sp.) ‘both articles of clothing were salmon colour’, la pantalla de moaré color geranio (IA, Sp.) ‘the geranium-coloured moiré lampshade’.

5.4  Adjectives formed from two words


(4)  Beige is pronounced as in French or English in Latin America, beis in Spain. The latter spelling is recommended by El País and the Academy.

5.2.5  Compound adjectives of colour All compound colours of the type ‘dark blue’, ‘light green’, ‘signal red’ are usually invariable in form (in this respect Spanish resembles French, e.g. des yeux bleu clair): hojas verde oscuro calcetines rojo claro una masa gris castaño [Mis ojos] son azul pálido (EP, Mex.)

dark green leaves pale/light red socks a grey/US gray-brown mass My eyes are pale blue

The NGLE 13.7n reports examples of pluralization in good writers, e.g. ojos azules claros ‘bright blue eyes’, but prefers the invariable forms. (1)  Well-known compound adjectives of this kind may be used on their own, but new or unusual formations may require the addition of de color, e.g. una mancha de color rojo apagado ‘a dull red stain/patch’, not ?una mancha rojo apagado. (2)  There are special words for some common mixed colours: verdirrojo ‘red-green’, verdiblanco ‘greenish-white’, verdinegro ‘very dark green’, blanquiazul ‘bluish-white’, blanquinegro ‘black-­andwhite’. These agree like normal adjectives: verdinegros/verdinegras, etc. (3)  There is no single word for ‘brown’ in European Spanish. Marrón (type 2) is chiefly used for artificial things like shoes and also for eyes. Castaño is used for hair and eyes: pelo castaño, ojos castaños. ‘Brown skin’ is piel morena. ‘Brown earth’ is tierra parda or tierra rojiza. Café (no a­ greement) or color café is used for ‘brown’ in many parts of Latin America.

5.3  Hirviendo and ardiendo Gerunds (see Glossary) cannot be used as adjectives in Spanish: one cannot say *un objeto ­volandofor ‘a flying object’ which is un objeto volante; see 24.3 for details. But there are two exceptions, hirviendo ‘boiling’ and ardiendo ‘burning’ which look like gerunds but can be used as adjectives: Tráeme agua hirviendo Tienes la frente ardiendo Yo más bien soy un carbón ardiendo (i.e.    sexually excited;  MVLl, Pe., dialogue)

Bring me some boiling water Your forehead is burning I’m more like a burning coal

(1)  Hirviendo, ardiendo are invariable in form, take no suffixes and cannot appear before a noun. Chorreando ‘dripping wet’ may be another exception in llevo la ropa chorreando ‘my clothes are dripping wet’. Hirviente for hirviendo is heard in Latin America.

5.4  Adjectives formed from two words Some compound adjectives are made into single words and behave like any adjective: muchachas pelirrojas ‘red-haired girls’ from pelo ‘hair’ and rojo ‘red’, cuernos puntiagudos ‘sharp-pointed horns’ from punta ‘point’ and agudo ‘sharp’.

58 Adjectives (1)  In adjectives joined by hyphens only the second word agrees with the noun: movimientos político-militares ‘political-military movements’, teorías histórico-críticas ‘historical-critical theories’. Such examples excepted, use of hyphens to join words is nowadays rare in Spanish; cf. contrarrevolucionario ‘counter-revolutionary’, latinoamericano ‘Latin-American’. See 44.4.6 for the use of the hyphen in these words.

5.5  Short forms of some adjectives Important: a number of common adjectives lose their final syllable in certain circumstances. (a)  Grande is shortened to gran before any noun: un gran momento ‘a great moment’, una gran comida ‘a great meal’. The -de is occasionally retained in formal literary styles, especially before a vowel. This archaism is rare nowadays, but cf. ¿busca un nuevo grande amor? (JCC, Sp.) ‘is he seeking a new great love?’, . . . y con un grande alboroto de pitos y timbales (GGM, Col.) ‘. . . and with a great din of whistles and kettledrums’. (b)  The following lose their final vowel when placed before a singular masculine noun or combination of adjective and masculine noun: alguno: algún remoto día some remote day postrero: tu postrer día (archaic) your bueno: un buen cocinero a good cook    last day malo: un mal ingeniero a bad engineer primero: mi primer amor my first love ninguno: en ningún momento at no moment tercero: el tercer hombre the third man In all cases, the full form is used if a conjunction or adverb separates the adjective from the noun or noun phrase: esta grande pero costosa victoria ‘this great but costly victory’, un bueno aunque agrio vino ‘a good though sour wine’. (1)  Grande is not shortened if más precedes: el más grande artista de su especialidad en América (EP, Mex.) ‘the greatest artist in his field in America’ (or el mayor artista), la más grande ofensiva de terrorismo dinamitero (GGM, Col.) ‘the biggest terrorist bombing campaign’. After tan, gran is usual – tan gran desastre ‘such a great disaster’– but grande is found in very literary styles. (2)  Popular speech, especially Latin-American, sometimes uses short forms of adjectives before feminine nouns. This is also seen in some good Spanish writers of the first half of the twentieth century, but it is nowadays avoided: la primera mujer ‘the first woman’, not *la primer mujer, buena parte de ‘a good part of’, not *buen parte de. But if an adjective comes between primero or tercero and a masculine noun, either form is allowed: su primer(o) y único amor ‘his/her first and only love’, but only su primera y única novela (examples from NGLE 21.4f). (3)  Santo ‘saint’ is shortened to san before the names of all male saints except those beginning with Do- or To-: san Juan, san Blas, santo Tomás, Santo Domingo. It is not shortened when it means ‘holy’: el santo Padre ‘the Holy Father’, todo el santo día ‘the whole day through’, el Santo Oficio ‘the Holy Office’ (i.e. the Inquisition). (4) For alguna and ninguna before feminine nouns beginning with a stressed a- or ha- see 3.1.2, 10.4 and 27.5.5. For cualquiera see 10.8. For the short forms of tanto and cuánto (tan and cuán) see 10.16 and 28.6.2.

5.6  Agreement of adjectives


5.6  Agreement of adjectives Some questions of number agreement of adjectives are also discussed under 2.3, particularly agreement with collective nouns (2.3.1). For the agreement of adjectives with titles like Alteza ‘Highness’, Excelencia ‘Excellency’ see 1.2.11.

5.6.1  Agreement of adjectives that follow the noun (a)  One or more masculine nouns require a masculine adjective: un elefante asiático ‘an Asian elephant’, platos combinados (Sp.) ‘single-dish courses’, usually mystifyingly translated in Spanish restaurants as ‘combined plates’: it means meat and vegetables served foreign-style on one plate; cien mil pesos mexicanos, ‘100,000 Mexican pesos’. (b)  One or more feminine nouns require a feminine adjective: la Grecia antigua ‘ancient Greece’, películas chinas y rusas ‘Russian and Chinese films’, mi madre es inglesa ‘my mother’s English’. (c)  Two or more nouns of different gender require a masculine plural adjective: profesores y profesoras ingleses ‘English male and female teachers’, puentes y casas decrépitos ‘derelict bridges and houses’. (1)  French rejects a masculine adjective following a feminine noun: *des hommes et des femmes gros is incorrect, but hombres y mujeres gordos ‘fat men and women’ is good Spanish. (2)  Seco (1998), 124, notes the possibility of singular agreement with two or more nouns denoting a single complex idea, e.g. talento y habilidad extremada ‘extreme talent and skill’ for talento y habilidad extremados. (3)  If several adjectives follow a plural noun and each adjective refers to only one individual item, the adjective will be singular: los presidentes peruano y venezolano ‘the Peruvian president and the Venezuelan president’. Los presidentes venezolanos y peruanos means ‘the presidents of Venezuela and the presidents of Peru’. (4)  Adverbs that have the form of adjectives are invariably masculine singular in form: María habla muy claro ‘Maria speaks very clearly’, estamos fatal ‘we’re in a terrible state/fix’. See 35.3.3 for further discussion.

5.6.2  Agreement with nouns joined by o or ni (a)  With the conjunction o agreement is optional. Plural agreement emphasizes the fact that the o is not exclusive (i.e. either one or the other or possibly both) and it indicates that the adjective refers to both nouns: Buscaban una tienda o un restaurante abiertos They were looking for an open store or   (abiertos clearly refers to both)    (an open) restaurant Buscaban la mujer o el hombre capaces de They were looking for the woman or man    asumir el cargo (for the absence of    capable of taking on the job   personal a see 26.2) (b) With ni ‘nor’ a plural verb is usual: ni Mario ni Juan eran tontos ‘neither Mario nor Juan was stupid’.

60 Adjectives

5.6.3  Agreement with collective nouns An adjective that modifies a collective noun is usually singular: la mayoría está convencida . . . ‘the majority is/are convinced’; but there are exceptions, discussed at 2.3.1.

5.6.4  Agreement of adjectives placed before a noun When an adjective precedes two or more nouns and qualifies them all, it usually agrees onlywiththe first. This avoids the awkward combination of a plural adjective with a singular noun or a masculine adjective with a feminine noun, e.g. to avoid the peculiar ?frescos rosas . . . below: su habitual sabiduría y tolerancia (ES, Arg.) esas frescas rosas y claveles (JLB, Arg.)

his usual wisdom and tolerance those fresh roses and carnations

(1)  The plural may appear to avoid ambiguities: sus amados hijo y nieto ‘his beloved son and grandson’ (both beloved), pobres Mario y Jean Pierre (ABE, Pe., dialogue) ‘poor Mario and Jean Pierre’. (2)  French does not allow this construction. Compare una profunda inspiración y reflexión and une inspiration et une réflexion profondes ‘deep inspiration and reflection’.

5.6.5  ‘Neuter’ agreement An adjective that refers to no noun in particular is neuter in gender and masculine singular in form: Es absurdo hacerlo sin ayuda It’s absurd to do it without help Es peligroso, pero lo haré It’s dangerous, but I’ll do it La miseria no tiene nada de sano y Extreme poverty has nothing healthy     placentero (MVLl, Pe.)    or agreeable about it (1)  Neuter agreement is sometimes found even where a noun is present: tampoco es bueno demasiada natación (LG, Sp., dialogue) ‘too much swimming isn’t good either’. Here the adjective does not qualify the noun natación but the general idea of hacer demasiada natación; buena would also be correct. This phenomenon is quite common in everyday speech when the noun is not accompanied by a determiner (see Glossary), e.g. mucha comida así no es bueno (or buena) ‘a lot of that sort of food isn’t good’, but always esa comida no es buena ’that food’s not good’. (2)  In the local language of Asturias, el bable, mass nouns have neuter gender to distinguish them from nouns referring to individual items. This sometimes creeps into the Castilian of that region, cf. una cebolla fresca ‘a (single) fresh onion’ and cebolla fresco ‘fresh onion’ (i.e. a quantity of onions), . . . fresca in standard Spanish. (3)  For adjectives with the article lo (lo bueno, lo grande, etc.) see 8.2.

5.7  Formation of adjectives of place 5.7.1  Adjectives referring to countries and regions These are formed unpredictably, as in English. The following are noteworthy (for the use of the definite article with the names of countries, see 3.2.17):

5.7  Formation of adjectives of place

Afganistán: afgano Alemania: alemán German Arabia Saudí/Saudita:   saudita/saudí Argelia: argelino Algerian Argentina: argentino Australia: australiano Austria: austriaco or austríaco Bélgica: belga Belgian Bolivia: boliviano Brasil: brasileño Canadá: canadiense Canarias: canario Castilla: castellano Castile/    Castilian. See (2) Cataluña: catalán Chile: chileno China: chino Colombia: colombiano Costa Rica: costarriqueño,   costarricense Dinamarca: danés Danish Ecuador: ecuatoriano Egipto: egipcio (not *egipciano) Escocia: escocés Scottish España: español. See (2) Estados Unidos:   estadounidense. See note 1

Europa: europeo Finlandia: finlandés Francia: francés Gales: galés Wales, Welsh Galicia: gallego Gibraltar: gibraltareño Gran Bretaña: británico Grecia: griego Guatemala: guatemalteco Holanda: holandés Honduras: hondureño Hungría: húngaro (la) India: indio/hindú.    See note 3 Inglaterra: inglés, often used   for ‘British’ Irak: iraquí Irán: iraní Irlanda: irlandés Israel: israelí Italia: italiano Japón: japonés Letonia (not *Latvia): letón   Latvian Lituania: lituano Marruecos: marroquí   Moroccan (moro is   pejorative)


Méjico/México:mejicano/   mexicano. See note 4   Nueva Zelanda/Nueva   Zelandia: neozelandés.  Nueva Zelanda in Spain,    both in Lat. Am. The    Academy rejects   *neocelandés Nicaragua: nicaragüense Noruega: noruego Norwegian Panamá: panameño Paraguay: paraguayo Perú: peruano Polonia: polaco Polish Portugal: portugués Puerto Rico: puertorriqueño/   portorriqueño El Salvador: salvadoreño Rumanía or Rumania:   rumano Rusia: ruso Suecia: sueco Swedish Suiza: suizo Swiss Uruguay: uruguayo Vascongadas, el País Vasco:   vasco Basque; see (5) Venezuela: venezolano

(1)  There is much vagueness surrounding words for the Americas. The adjective from América Latina or Latinoamérica is latinoamericano, and is much used by Latin-Americans to refer to themselves; it also includes Brazil and the French-speaking countries. Hispanoamericano or ‘SpanishAmerican’ is a linguistically more accurate but ethnically inaccurate term for the Spanish-speaking peoples of Latin America, but it is avoided by Latin-Americans. In Latin America norteamericano means our ‘American’, though it logically includes Canadians. Estadounidense is often used for the adjective from Estados Unidos, also estadunidense in Mexico and in some near-by republics. For agreement with Estados Unidos, see 3.2.17 note 1. Americano is often assumed to mean latinoamericano in Latin-America, but it usually means our‘American’ in Spain, although according to the Academy it should only mean ‘Latin-American’. The adjective from América del sur or Sudamérica (or Suramérica) ‘South America’ – which does not include Central America, Mexico or the Caribbean – is sudamericano. Seco (1998), 421, says that the forms Suramérica, suramericano are generally thought ‘less acceptable’ in Spain; El País (Libro de estilo 2014) has changed its mind and now prefers the prefix sud-, e.g. Sudáfrica, but insists on suroeste ‘South-West’, sureste ‘South-East’, etc. Sudamérica and sudamericano are often used informally in Spain to refer to anywhere south of the Río Grande. Gringo is constantly used colloquially by Latin-Americans to refer to North Americans and by some to refer also to Europeans. It is not always unfriendly.

62 Adjectives (2)  El castellano is the Castilian language, i.e. what is described in this book, strictly speaking the dialect of Old Castile which became the majority language of Spain. Catalans, Basques, Galicians and some Latin-Americans sometimes object to el castellano being called el español. (3)  In Latin America the word indio is assumed to mean Native American, so hindú is constantly used for Asian Indian, although it properly means Hindu: los empleados hindús del raj británico (CF, Mex., dialogue), ‘the Indian employees under the British Raj’ (for hindús versus hindúes see 2.1.3c). El País insists on indio for Asian Indian. Los hinduistas is nowadays often used for ‘Hindus’. In Spain indios americanos or, less commonly, amerindios, is used for Native Americans. Indiano is used to denote a ‘colonial’ who made money in Latin America and returned to Spain. (4)  Mexicans write México/mexicano even though they are pronounced Méjico, mejicano: the x commemorates the Mexica or Aztecs. The Latin-American press and El País (Sp.) and El Mundo (Sp.) use these forms, and the Academy prefers them, but the spellings with j are common in Spain: Abc and La Vanguardia of Spain use them. A few other Mexican place names are similarly affected, e.g. Oaxaca, Xalapa (or Jalapa). El País insists on the spelling Texas and on the p ­ ronunciation ­[té-χas]; the adjective is tejano [te-χá-no]; the Academy accepts Tejas and Texas. X is pronounced ‘sh’ in some Mexican place names, e.g. Xcaret, Tlaxcala. (5) The Basque words Euskadi ‘Basque Country’ (el País Vasco), euskalduna ‘Basque’/‘Basquespeaker’, euskera ‘the Basque language’, are commonly seen in Spanish newspapers.

5.7.2  Adjectives referring to towns There is no general rule for forming adjectives referring to towns, and some places pride themselves on obscure forms, e.g. Huelva – onubense, El Escorial – gurriato or escurialense. There are hundreds of these demonyms or gentilicios: the Spanish version of Wikipedia includes them in its articles on towns and cities. A few common examples are: Álava: alavés Alcalá: complutense.   See note 1 Ávila: abulense Badajoz: pacense Barcelona: barcelonés Berlín: berlinés Bilbao: bilbaíno Bogotá: bogotano Boston: bostoniano Buenos Aires: porteño/   bonaerense. See note 2 Burgos: burgalés Cádiz: gaditano Caracas: caraqueño Córdoba: cordobés La Coruña: coruñés Dublín: dublinés

Florencia: florentino Granada: granadino La Habana: habanero Lima: limeño Lisboa: lisboeta Lisbon Londres: londinense   (not *londiniense) Los Ángeles: angelino Madrid: madrileño Málaga: malagueño Miami: miamense Moscú: moscovita Murcia: murciano Nápoles: napolitano Nueva York: neoyorquino Pamplona: pamplonés/   pamplonica invariable París: parisiense. See note 3

La Paz: paceño/pacense Quito: quiteño Río de Janeiro: carioca Roma: romano Salamanca: salmantino/   salamanqués San Francisco: sanfranciscano San Sebastián: donostiarra Santander: santanderino Santiago: santiaguino   (Ch.), santiagués (Sp.) Segovia: segoviano Sevilla: sevillano Toledo: toledano Valencia: valenciano Valladolid: vallisoletano Washington: washingtoniano Zaragoza: zaragozano

(1)  La complutense is the old university of Alcalá de Henares, now located in Madrid. (2)  Bonaerense refers to the province of Buenos Aires, porteño only to the city, although bonaerense is sometimes also used for the city.

5.8  Intensive forms of the adjective


(3)  El País bans the use of parisién and parisino in its columns, but they are heard colloquially. The Academy accepts parisino.

5.8  Intensive forms of the adjective 5.8.1  The suffix -ísimo: meaning and formation The suffix -ísimo can be added to many adjectives. It intensifies the original meaning – Ana es riquísima ‘Ana is extremely rich’, from rico – and it should be used sparingly. This suffix is ­sometimes misnamed a ‘superlative’ suffix,but it cannot be used in comparisons and is best thought of simply as an intensifier. The modern tendency is to prefer muy ‘very’ plus a normal adjective. -ísimo cannot be added to all adjectives and there are irregularities. -ísimo is added after removing any final vowel: grande – grandísimo, guapa – guapísima. The following spelling changes occur: (a)  adjectives ending in -co/-ca and -go/-ga require a silent u to keep the hard sound of the c or g: rico – riquísimo ‘rich’, vago – vaguísimo ‘vague’/‘lazy’. (b)  Adjectives ending in -z change the z to c: feliz – felicísimo ‘happy’. (c)  For adjectives ending in two vowels, see 5.8.2. (d)  Adjectives ending in -ble change this ending to -bil: amable – amabilísimo ‘friendly’, posible– posibilísimo ‘possible’.

5.8.2  Adjectives which do not take -ísimo The following adjectives do not take the suffix -ísimo: (a)  those ending in -í, -uo, ío or eo if not stressed on the e: baladí ‘trivial’, arduo ‘arduous’, espontáneo ‘spontaneous’, rubio ‘blond’ (rubísimo is possible but infrequent), tardío ‘late’. Exceptions: agrio – agrísimo ‘sour’, amplio – amplísimo ‘wide’/‘extensive’, frío – friísimo ‘cold’, limpio – limpísimo ‘clean’, pío – piísimo ‘pious’, sucio – sucísimo ‘dirty’. (b)  Words stressed on the last syllable but two (palabras esdrújulas) ending in -ico, -fero, -éneo, -voro, político ‘political’, mamífero ‘mammal(ian)’, homogéneo ‘homogeneous’, carnívoro ‘carnivorous’. (c) Diminutives and comparatives: grandote ‘enormous’, menor ‘smaller’/‘younger’. But ­mayorcísimo ‘very old’ is heard, e.g. es mayorcísima ‘she’s very old/ancient’. (d)  Compound adjectives, e.g. patizambo ‘knock-kneed’, ojituerto ‘one-eyed’. (e)  Many adjectives of more than three syllables ending in -ble: inexplicable, incontestable ‘unquestionable’, desmontable ‘collapsible’. There are a few exceptions, e.g. agradable – agradabilísimo ‘agreeable’, hábil – habilísimo ‘skilful’. (f)  Those whose meaning cannot be further intensified: fantástico, ideal, infinito, inmortal ‘immortal’, total, etc. Exceptions: mismo – mismísimo ‘very’ (la mismísima persona ‘the very same person’), singular – singularísimo ‘singular’.

64 Adjectives (g) Time and number adjectives: anual ‘annual’, diario ‘daily’, nocturno ‘night-time’, semanal ‘weekly’, quinto ‘fifth’, último ‘last’, vigésimo ‘twentieth’, etc. Exception: primero – primerísimo ‘first’/‘very first of all’. (h)  Hirviendo ‘boiling’ and ardiendo ‘burning’. (i)  Technical and scientific adjectives and most adjectives ending in -ista, e.g. decimal, termonuclear ‘thermo-nuclear’, transformacional ‘transformational’, separatista ‘separatist’, nacionalista ‘nationalist’, etc.

5.8.3  Irregular intensive forms (a)  The following are best learned as separate words: antiguo: antiquísimo ancient áspero harsh aspérrimo rough cursi: cursilísimo affected/pseudo-refined inferior: ínfimo (literary) inferior/least/lowest joven: jovencísimo young lejos: lejísimos distant/far

mayor: máximo supreme/greatest menor: mínimo slightest/least mejor: óptimo superb (literary) peor: pésimo bad/dreadful superior: supremo superior/supreme

(b)  Some of the following forms are occasionally found in older texts and/or in flowery written styles: the current form (if any) follows the literary form: amigo friendly/keen amicísimo/amiguísimo célebre famous celebérrimo cruel cruel crudelísimo/cruelísimo fértil fertile ubérrimo/fertilísimo fiel faithful fidelísimo/fidelísimo

libre free libérrimo/muy libre magnífico magnificent magnificentísimo/ pobre poor paupérrimo/pobrísimo sabio wise sapientísimo sagrado sacred sacratísimo

(c)  The old rule whereby the diphthongs ue and ie are simplified to o or e when -ísimo is added is nowadays usually ignored, although novísimo ‘very recent’ must be distinguished from nuevísimo ‘very new’. Bracketed forms are literary: bueno buenísimo (bonísimo) good cierto ciertísimo (certísimo) certain diestro diestrísimo (destrísimo) skilled fuerte fuertísimo (fortísimo) strong reciente recientísimo (recentísimo) recent tierno tiernísimo (ternísimo) tender In some words the diphthong is never modified, e.g. viejo – viejísimo ‘old’, cuerdo – cuerdísimo ‘sane’.

5.9  Use of nouns as adjectives and adjectives as nouns (a)  Nouns may occasionally be used as adjectives: Tienes que ser más persona decente Este libro es menos novela que el otro

You’ve got to be more of a decent person This book is less of a novel than the other

5.10  Position of adjectives in relation to nouns


Such nouns are invariable in form, and when they are modified by words like más, menos, tan, they are not accompanied by a definite or indefinite article. See 28.4.1 for nouns and ­adjectives ­modified by qué: ¡qué bandido eres! ‘what a villain you are!’; ¡qué guapa estás! ‘you look great!’ (b)  Spanish adjectives can very often be made into nouns by using a determiner (see Glossary): valiente/un valiente ‘brave’/‘a brave man’, viejo/tres viejas ‘old’/‘three old women’, extranjero/los extranjeros ‘foreign’/‘the foreigners’. The noun may acquire a special meaning, as in impreso/un impreso ‘printed’/‘a printed form’, helado/un helado ‘frozen’/‘an ice-cream’, rojo/un rojo ‘red’/‘a Communist’. Some noun forms are simply not used: *sale con un feliz is not said for ‘(s)he’s going out with a happy man’ = sale con un hombre feliz; llegó con una chica guapa ‘(s)he arrived with an attractive girl’, not *con una guapa, etc. The NGLE notes that nouns of negative meaning – enfermo, calvo ‘bald’, ciego ‘blind’, discapacitado ‘handicapped’, manco ‘one-armed’, sordo ‘deaf’, malvado ‘wicked’– are more likely to be used as nouns than ‘positive’ ones, but only dictionary practice and reading can guide learners in this matter. (1)  Uno and not un is used for the masculine of adjectives when the latter are used as nouns. Thus un parecido = ‘similarity’, but uno parecido = ‘a similar one’, as in le voy a encargar a alguna modista que haga uno parecido (ABV, Sp., dialogue) ‘I’m going to get a dressmaker to make one like it’. Cf. also prefiero esta taza a una rota ‘I prefer this cup to a broken one’. (2)  See 4.1.11 on the use of the indefinite article to distinguish nouns from adjectives, as in es grosero ‘he’s rude’ and es un grosero ‘he’s a rude person’.

5.10  Position of adjectives in relation to nouns 5.10.1 General For the position of alguno, ninguno, cualquiera, mismo, possessive adjectives, etc., consult these words in the index. For the position of ordinal number adjectives, e.g. primero ‘first’, sexto ‘sixth’, see 11.12.3. The position of Spanish adjectives before or after the noun they modify is more variable than in English (‘a good book’ but never *‘a book good’), and a good deal more variable than in French. But the underlying rules that determine whether one says un lejano ruido or un ruido lejano ‘a distant noise’ are difficult to explain. The basic rule for all adjectives other than ordinal numbers seems to be: (a)  Restrictive adjectives follow the noun. (b)  Non-restrictive adjectives may precede or follow the noun. Some always precede the noun. ‘Restrictive’ adjectives narrow the scope of the noun that precedes them: vino espumoso ‘sparkling wine’ is a restricted or specific type of wine; las salchichas inglesas ‘English sausages’ refers only to a specific kind of sausage. Non-restrictive adjectives refer to the whole of the thing denoted by the noun: las aburridas conferencias del decano ‘the dean’s boring lectures’ and la poco apetitosa cocina británica ‘unappetizing British cooking’ are both generalizations and apply to every member or aspect of the thing referred to. Unfortunately the distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive adjectives is not always clear, so the decision about where to put the adjective sometimes relies on a feel for the language rare among non-natives.

66 Adjectives (1)  As a useful, though not absolutely fool proof, guide to whether an adjective is restrictive, native speakers of English can apply the following test: If an English adjective sounds correct when spoken with a heavy stress – ‘I don’t like sour apples, but I do like sweet apples’ – then it is almost certainly restrictive and its Spanish equivalent must follow the noun: no me gustan las manzanas agrias, pero sí me gustan las manzanas dulces. If an English adjective sounds wrong when stressed. it is probably non-restrictive and its Spanish counterpart may well precede the noun. If one stresses ‘beautiful’ in ‘the beautiful sun of Spain’, it suggests that there is another less beautiful Spanish sun. This is absurd, so the Spanish adjective will probably precede the noun: el hermoso sol de España. Ordinal number adjectives do not follow this rule, cf. está en el quinto capítulo, no en el cuarto ‘it’s in the fifth chapter, not in the fourth’. See 11.12.3.

5.10.2  Examples of restrictive adjectives The following adjectives are restrictive and therefore always follow the noun: (a)  those that create a new type or sub-set of the thing described by the noun: el pan integral wholemeal bread el calentamiento global global warming los cazas computarizados computerized   fighter aircraft la religión cristiana the Christian religion

la teoría cuántica quantum theory la tracción delantera front-wheel drive el vino tinto red wine los canales digitales digital channels

All the other examples in this section are in fact instances of this type of adjective, which can be thought of as a transformed clause: la poesía romántica = aquella poesía que es romántica, las manzanas verdes = aquellas manzanas que están/son verdes. (b)  Those used for purposes of contrast, whether explicit or implied: Tráigame una cuchara limpia Tengo una camisa verde y otra azul No queremos agua salada

Bring me a clean spoon (i.e. not a dirty one) I have a green shirt and a blue one We don’t want salty water

(c)  Scientific or technical adjectives: la gramática transformacional el laboratorio lingüístico language   transformational grammar   laboratory la conexión inalámbrica wireless connection el soporte técnico technical support el correo electrónico email* la pantalla táctil touch screen *El email and, colloquially, el mail are common in spoken Spanish, but the Academy recommends el correo electrónico. (d)  Relational adjectives. These express the origin, substance, contents or purpose of a noun. Their use is discussed at 5.11: el túnel ferroviario railway tunnel la energía eólica wind energy

la nave espacial spaceship la televisión infantil children’s TV

(e)  Adjectives of place, nationality, affiliation, which are almost always restrictive: el clima argentino the Argentine climate el campo inglés the English countryside

el Partido Democrático the Democratic   Party

5.10  Position of adjectives in relation to nouns

los monumentos mayas the Mayan   monuments


el nacionalismo vasco Basque nationalism la doctrina cristiana Christian doctrine

(1)  Only the most far-fetched styles would use such scientific or technical adjectives poetically or as epithets, though some, e.g. unilateral, microscópico, (p)sicoanalítico, materialista, might conceivably be used as epithets (see 5.10.4a). (2)  Adjectives of nationality can occasionally be used as epithets when they express allegedly typical qualities (see 5.10.4a for a discussion of epithets): mi española impulsividad me hace escribir estas líneas (reader’s letter, Sp.) ‘my Spanish impulsiveness makes me write these lines’; su británica reserva ‘her/his British reserve’. Adjectives of place are sometimes pre-posed in journalism before very well-known features, as in la madrileña calle de Alcalá ‘the (typically) Madrid Alcalá street’.

5.10.3 Adjectives put before a noun to indicate impression, reaction or subjective assessment The most common reason for putting an adjective before the noun is to emphasize its emotional content, e.g. una tremenda tragedia ‘a tremendous tragedy’, un gran poeta ‘a great poet’, el inquietante problema del efecto invernadero ‘the worrying problem of the greenhouse effect’. These adjectives are non-restrictive in context because the speaker wants to eliminate any allusion to another tragedy, poet or problem: in the previous example there is obviously no non-worrying greenhouse effect. These pre-posed adjectives can describe the speaker’s impression, assessment or evaluation of a thing, or its appearance. They include a vast range of adjectives indicating shape, distance, size, colour, texture, passage of time, praise, mood, blame or subjective appraisal of any kind. The more emotional the language, therefore, the more pre-posed adjectives are likely to occur, as in poetry, poetic prose, journalism and advertising. Examples: las magníficas ruinas de Machu Picchu the magnificent ruins at/of Macchu Picchu ¡No voy a permitir que a tu hija la envenenes I’m not going to let you poison your    con las ideas de tu enferma cabeza!    daughter with the ideas in your sick head!    (LE, Mex., dialogue) un profesor, dueño de una amplísima cultura a teacher, a highly educated man    (SPl, Mex., dialogue) ¡Sensacional promoción de verano! Sensational Summer Offer! esta popular y veterana suite de diseño this popular and time-tested graphic design   gráfico . . .    suite . . . ¡Convierte tus vídeos en auténticas películas! Turn your videos into real films! Sometimes the difference of meaning between post-posed and pre-posed adjectives can be important, as in el poético lenguaje de Lorca ‘the poetic language of Lorca’ (aesthetic opinion) and el lenguaje poético de Lorca ‘the language of Lorca’s poetry’ (factual), or las decimonónicas actitudes del ministro ‘the nineteenth-century attitudes of the minister’ (an opinion) and la novela decimonónica ‘the nineteenth-century novel’ (factual). But very often a pre-posed adjective is merely more poetic or dramatic, a post-posed one more matter-of-fact. The following examples will help to train the ear: el casi olvidado nombre de James the almost forgotten name of James   MacPherson (JLB, Arg.)   MacPherson Hay barcos anclados en permanente contacto There are boats anchored at sea in   con los aviones nocturnos (GGM, Col.)    permanent contact with the night aircraft La revolución significó para mí una justa The revolution meant for me a just   redistribución de la riqueza (MVL, Pe.)l    redistribution of wealth

68 Adjectives una guirnalda de blancas flores (LG, Sp.) La pera es de fácil digestión (cookery book,   Spain) el creciente costo de la tierra urbana

a wreath of white flowers Pears are easily digested the rising cost of land in the cities

(1) The position of adjectives is fixed in many set phrases: Alto Egipto ‘Upper Egypt’, el SumoPontífice ‘the Pope’, Baja California ‘Lower California’ (cf. América Central, los Estados Unidos, la China Popular, ‘People’s China’, etc.), la banda ancha ‘broadband’, altos hornos ‘blast-­ furnaces’, enalta mar ‘on the high seas’, Dios Todopoderoso ‘Almighty God’, sentido común ‘common sense’, etc. (2)  If an adjective is qualified by an adverb it usually follows the noun in ordinary styles: esta noticia altamente reveladora ‘this highly revealing news item’, una chica frígidamente agresiva, ‘a frigidly aggressive girl’, con tres amigos igualmente roñosos ‘with three equally stingy friends’. Compare anuncian una útil linterna (not linterna útil) ‘they are advertising a useful torch/US flashlight’ and anuncian una linterna muy útil ‘they are advertising a very useful torch/flashlight’. With más and menos either position is possible: el más popular presentador de la TV italiana ‘the most popular presenter on Italian TV’, or el presentador más popular de la TV italiana. However, constructions like la altamente reveladora noticia ‘the highly revealing news item’, esa siempre sorprendente inteligencia de los perros (SG, Mex.) ‘that ever surprising intelligence of dogs’, la sorprendente y para Julián desconocida noticia . . . (IA, Sp.) ‘the surprising and – for Julian – unknown news . . .’ are quite common in literary styles.

5.10.4  Other uses of adjectives placed before the noun The following types of adjectives are also placed before the noun: (a)  Epithets, i.e. adjectives used to describe typical or predicted qualities. These are not common in everyday or matter-of-fact language except in set phrases, but they are very common in literary, poetic, advertising or other types of emotive language: mi distinguido colega el peligroso tigre asiático un valiente torero los volubles dioses romanos

my distinguished colleague the dangerous Asian tiger a brave bullfighter the fickle Roman gods

Epithets describe predictable or typical qualities. One can say un enorme elefante ‘an enormous elephant’ but only un elefante cojo ‘a lame elephant’ since elephants are not typically lame; mi leal amigo ‘my loyal friend’ but only mi amigo vegetariano ‘my vegetarian friend’; un difícil problema or un problema difícil ‘a difficult problem’, but only un problema (p)sicológico, since problems are not all or typically psychological. (b)  Adjectives that clearly refer to every one of the items denoted by a plural noun: a Kevin lo único que le interesa son sus tontos juguetes y sus cómics ‘the only thing that interests Kevin is his stupid toys and his comics’. (JV, Mex.), where his sister is claiming that all his toys are stupid. More examples: muchas gracias por las magníficas rosas ‘many thanks for the magnificent roses’, sus evasivas respuestas empezaban a irritarme ‘his/her evasive replies were starting to irritate me’, las simpáticas peticiones de nuestros oyentes ‘our listeners’ kind requests’. For this reason, adjectives applied to unique entities are likely to be pre-posed, unless they apply only to an aspect or part of the thing:

5.10  Position of adjectives in relation to nouns

Se veía el imponente Everest el izquierdista Frente Farabundo Martí tu alarmante edad . . .


One could see imposing Mount Everest the left-wing Farabundo Martí Front your alarming age . . . (you only have one age)

But Hay una Argentina montañosa y otra llana También visitamos la ciudad moderna

There is a mountainous Argentina and a flat one, We also visited the modern (part of the) city

(c)  Intensifiers, hyperboles and swear words – the latter are extreme examples of adjectives used emotively and usually devoid of all real meaning: mi increíble suerte ¡este maldito ordenador! (Lat. Am.   computadora or computador) Valiente soldado eres tú tu dichosa familia estas condenadas hormigas cinco cochinos/piojosos euros

my incredible luck this damned computer! A great soldier you are (I don’t think . . .) your blessed family . . . these damned ants five lousy euros

5.10.5  Position of adjectives with nouns connected by de Choice of position here depends on whether the noun phrase is a compound word, i.e. a new concept, or merely a loose cluster of words. Thus las flores de España ‘the flowers of Spain’ is not a compound, so one says las flores silvestres de España ‘the wild flowers of Spain’ not *las flores de España silvestres. But una casa de muñecas ‘a dolls’ house’ is a compound and is inseparable: una casa de muñecas barata ‘a cheap dolls’ house’, not *una casa barata de muñecas. Only long familiarity with Spanish provides a guide as to what is or is not a compound noun. Some noun phrases are uncertain: one can say una bicicleta amarilla de hombre or una bicicleta de hombre amarilla ‘a yellow man’s bicycle’ (the Spanish is unambiguous!). Further examples: un buque de asalto anfibio an amphibious assault craft un curso básico de informática a basic course in computing un libro lleno de curiosas referencias de a book full of curious references of a   índole personal (JLB, Arg.)    personal nature In the case of adjectives that could come before the noun (see preceding sections), various solutions are possible: una increíble cantidad de oro, una cantidad increíble de oro, una cantidad de oro increíble ‘an incredible amount of gold’ are all possible. (1)  Relational adjectives (see 5.11) cannot be separated from their nouns: one cannot say *un virus peligroso informático for un peligroso virus informático or un virus informático peligroso ‘a dangerous computer virus’.

5.10.6  Position of bueno, malo, grande, pequeño The general rule applies: when they are clearly restrictive, they follow the noun. When used restrictively, they usually indicate objective qualities. When they precede the noun they usually express a subjective evaluation – which is usually the case, but see note 4 for the special case of pequeño. According to the GDLE,, in the case of bueno and malo, the pre-posed adjective may unambiguously refer to competence rather than moral qualities. So un buen poeta may be a scoundrel

70 Adjectives but a competent poet, whereas un poeta bueno may be a good poet and a good person. Likewise un mal músico and un músico malo ‘a bad musician’, un buen amigo = ‘good as a friend’ and un amigo bueno = ‘a good friend and a good person’. (a)  Objective qualities Tengo un abrigo bueno para los fines de I’ve got a good coat for weekends, and   semana, y uno regular para los laborables    a so-so one for weekdays Oscar Wilde dijo que no hay libros buenos o Oscar Wilde said there are no good or bad   malos sino libros bien o mal escritos    books only well or badly written books   (JLB, Arg., contrast) Ponlo debajo del árbol grande Put it under the big tree Trae el martillo grande Bring the big hammer mi hermana mayor/menor my elder/younger sister (b)  Subjective qualities un buen carpintero un gran éxito un gran ruido/poeta/embustero los grandes narcotraficantes un pequeño problema (see note 4) el mayor poeta mexicano ni la menor impresión de insinceridad

a good carpenter a great success a great noise/poet/fraud the major drug dealers a slight problem the greatest Mexican poet not even the slightest impression of insincerity

(1) With hombre and mujer, bueno tends to mean ‘good’ after the noun and ‘harmless’ before: un buen hombre means ‘a harmless/simple man’. Malo is weaker before the noun, e.g. pasamos un mal rato ‘we had a bad time’. (2)  There are many set expressions: lo hizo de buena gana ‘(s)he did it willingly’, oro de buena ley ‘pure gold’, en buen lío te has metido ‘you’re in a fine mess’, a mí siempre me pone buena cara ‘(s)he always makes an effort with me’, ¡qué mala pata! ‘what bad luck’, etc. (3)  Grande is pre-posed when it means ‘great’, but it may mean ‘big’ in either position as in estaba sentada cerca del gran ventanal/del ventanal grande ‘she was sitting near the big window’. (4)  Un pequeño problema is normal since problema is an abstract noun. However una pequeña casa is less usual than una casita. For discussion of this phenomenon see 43.2.

5.10.7  Position of nuevo and viejo The usual explanation is that nuevo is put before the noun when it means ‘another’ and viejo is put before the noun when it means ‘previous’/‘long-standing’: tenemos un nuevo presidente/un presidente nuevo ‘we’ve got a new president’, nuevos progresos técnicos ‘new (i.e. more) technological developments’. Similarly un viejo amigo ‘is an old friend’ (i.e. long-standing) and un amigo viejo is old in years. Nuevo is usually put after the noun when it means ‘brand-new’ as is viejo when it means ‘not new’: un coche nuevo ‘a brand-new car’, un coche viejo ‘an old car’. But viejo may nevertheless be pre-posed when it means ‘not young’: un viejo americano ‘an old American’. This distinction is overridden for purposes of contrast: prefiero el coche nuevo al viejo ‘I prefer our new (i.e. latest) car to the old (i.e. previous) one’.

5.11  Relational adjectives


5.10.8  Adjectives whose meaning varies according to position The following are some common cases of changes of meaning determined by adjective position, but in many cases the distinction is not rigid and a good dictionary should be consulted for ­further information: antiguo cierto falso medio pobre raro rico semejante simple triste valiente verdadero varios

After noun Before noun ancient former or ancient sure/unquestionable a certain . . . forged/falsified not real, ‘pseudo-’ average half poor (i.e. not rich) miserable/wretched strange/rare rare rich delicious similar such a . . . simple-minded simple (i.e. mere) sad wretched courageous ‘great’ (ironic) truthful real/authentic assorted/various several

For mismo see 10.11, propio 10.14, solo/sólo 10.15.

5.10.9  Adjectives that occur only in front of the noun The following phrases contain adjectives that normally occur only in front of a noun: Lo haré en ambos casos I’ll do it in both cases las llamadas democracias the so-called   democracies la mera mención del asunto the mere   mention of the topic Llevaba mucho dinero (S)he was carrying a    lot of money Busquemos otro médico Let’s look for   another doctor Me dejó en pleno centro (S)he left me right    in the town centre menudo pájaro . . ./menudo follón . . . some    guy . . ./some mess . . . (sarcastic tone)

pocas veces rarely, poca paciencia not   much patience el pretendido/presunto autor the   alleged/supposed author un sedicente budista a self-styled Buddhist Trajeron sendos paquetes (literary) Each    one brought a parcel el supuesto ladrón the alleged thief ante tamaña tontería in the face of such   stupidity No puedo comer tanta cantidad I can’t eat such   a quantity

5.11  Relational adjectives ‘Relational’ adjectives are usually equivalent to de plus a noun: la vida familiar = la vida de familia ‘family life’. Spanish has numerous relational adjectives formed from nouns cf. mañana ‘morning’– matinal (la televisión matinal ‘breakfast TV’), impuesto ‘tax’ – impositivo (política impositiva ‘taxation policy’), agua ‘water’ – hidráulico (avión hidráulico ‘fire-fighting aircraft that sprays water’), or acuático: plantas acuáticas ‘water-plants’/‘aquatic plants’.

72 Adjectives Relational adjectives cannot normally precede a noun (*matinal televisión is not Spanish). They usually cannot be made comparative by using más or menos, and many of them cannot be predicates of verbs like ser: one can say tasas universitarias ‘university fees’, but not *estas tasas son universitarias. There are exceptions. like constitucional, acuático: estas enmiendas no son constitucionales ‘these amendments are not constitutional’. New relational adjectives constantly appear, probably because the combination noun + adjective more effectively translates English compound nouns of the type ‘computer virus’ (virus informático), ‘film text’ (texto fílmico). Some of these formations are short-lived or are rejected as journalese or jargon. There is no fixed rule for forming relational adjectives from nouns, and Latin-American coinages occasionally differ from Peninsular ones, cf. Sp. presupuestario, Lat. Am. presupuestal ‘budget’; Sp. programa de radio, Lat. Am. programa radial ‘radio program(me)’. In a few cases, e.g. viento-eólico ‘wind’ as in la energía eólica ‘wind energy’ (from Eolo ‘Aeolus’, the Greek god of the winds), rocarupestre ‘rock’/‘cave’ as in el arte rupestre ‘cave art’, caza-cinegético ‘hunting’ as in club cinegético ‘hunting club’, the adjective is derived from a completely different root. The following are taken from various printed sources: de + noun Relational adjective la carestía petrolera high oil prices carestía del petróleo la crisis bancaria bank crisis crisis de la banca los defectos auditivos hearing deficiencies defectos del oído la industria automovilística car industry industria de automóviles la industria hotelera hotel industry industria de hoteles los peces fluviales river-fish peces de río la política energética energy policy política de energía el programa televisivo television programa de televisión  programme el sindicato piloteril pilots’ union sindicato de pilotos el centro deportivo sports centre centro de deportes el sistema operativo operating system la contaminación lumínica light pollution (1) Important: in both languages an adjective may be descriptive or relational according to context: compare ‘theatrical equipment’ (relational = ‘theatre equipment’) and ‘theatrical behaviour’ (descriptive). Such pairs seem to be more common in Spanish and they may confuse English­ speakers, who tend to forget that a word like infantil can mean ‘children’s’ as well as ‘childish’. Further examples: una cantidad masiva a massive quantity una persona nerviosa a nervous person un gesto hospitalario a hospitable gesture la política defensiva defence policy la poesía amorosa love poetry

los medios masivos the mass media el gas nervioso nerve gas un centro hospitalario a hospital centre la actitud defensiva defensive attitude una sonrisa amorosa a loving smile

5.12  Translating the English prefix ‘un-’ The Spanish prefix in- is less common than the English ‘un-’ and English speakers must resist the temptation to invent imaginary words like *ineconómico from ‘uneconomical’ (poco económico). The two languages often coincide: indeseable ‘undesirable’, inimaginable ‘unimaginable’, insobornable

5.12  Translating the English prefix ‘un-’


‘unbribable’, insoportable ‘unbearable’, intocable ‘untouchable’, irreal ‘unreal’, improbable ‘improbable’. But often a solution with poco, no or sin must be found: no autorizado/sin autorizar unauthorized no usado/sin usar unused poco amistoso unfriendly poco apetitoso unappetizing poco atractivo unattractive poco caritativo uncharitable

poco inteligente unintelligent poco profesional unprofessional sin comprender uncomprehending sin convencer unconvinced sin principios unprincipled sin probar untried

(1)  The above list shows that poco, like the French peu, negates an adjective: poco cansado means ‘not tired’, not ‘a bit tired’. A preceding indefinite article restores the meaning ‘little’: un poco cansado ‘a bit tired’/‘slightly tired’.

6 Comparison of adjectives and adverbs The main points discussed in this chapter are: • Comparison of adjectives and adverbs (how to say ‘more/less beautiful’), etc. (Sections 6.1–2) • The superlative of adjectives (‘most/least beautiful’, etc.). (Section 6.3) • The superlative of adverbs (‘most fluently’/‘least convincingly’, etc.). (Section 6.4) • The difference between más/menos que and más/menos de. (Section 6.5) • When to use más/menos del/de la/de los/de las que and más/menos de lo que. (Section 6.6) • Mayor and menor. (Sections 6.8–6.9) • Comparisons of equality: ‘as . . . as . . .’, ‘the same as. . .’, etc. (Section 6.15) Comparison of adjectives in Spanish is not complicated, but English-speaking students are often affected by interference from French, which encourages misuse of the article in the superlative and failure to use tanto como ‘as . . . as’ in comparisons of equality (cf. French aussi . . . que). Important: English and French-speakers must remember to use subject personal pronouns after comparisons: es más rubia que yo/tú = elle est plus blonde que moi/toi ‘she’s blonder than me/you’, never * . . . que mí/ti.

6.1 Regular comparison of adjectives and adverbs With the exception of the five adjectives and adverbs listed at 6.2, all adjectives and adverbs form the comparative with más . . . que ‘more . . . than’ or menos. . . que ‘less . . . than’: Los limones son más agrios que las cerezas Tú andas más despacio que yo Más vale solos que mal acompañados (MVLl, Pe., dialogue)

Lemons are bitterer than cherries You walk more slowly than me Better alone than in bad company

(1) For the difference between más que/menos que and más de/menos de see 6.5. (2) Important: before clauses, verb phrases and neuter adjectives and participles, más/menos de lo que or the appropriate gender and number of más/menos del que are required, as in es más joven de lo que parece ‘(s)he’s younger than (s)he looks’. See 6.6 for discussion. (3) Some people require that más and menos should be repeated before adjectives and adverbs, as in hablamos del artista más famoso y más buscado del arte urbano (APR, Sp., dialogue) ‘we’re talking about the most famous and (most) sought-after wall artist (i.e. graffiti artist)’, es menos tímido y menos callado que su hermano ‘he’s less shy and (less) quiet than his brother’. But this rule is not respected everywhere: nunca he visto ojos más limpios y felices . . . (CF, Mex., dialogue) ‘I’ve never seen clearer and happier eyes . . .’, . . . uno de los intelectuales marxistas más analítico, filósofo y racional de la izquierda comunista (CR, Mex.) ‘one of the most analytical, philosophical and rational Marxist intellectuals on the communist left’.

6.2  Irregular comparative forms


(4)  The comparative of adverbs and, in some circumstances, of adjectives, has the same form as the superlative. See 6.3.2 for discussion. (5)  ‘. . . than ever . . .’ is translated . . . que nunca (but not *que jamás): ¡estás más joven que nunca! ‘you’re younger than ever!’ This use of nunca and of other negative words used with a positive meaning is discussed at 27.4. (6)  The verb llevar, which has numerous meanings (see Index), is used in personal comparisons involving age or height: me lleva dos años/dos centímetros ‘(s)he’s two years older/two centimetres taller than me’, aunque me llevaba muchos años mi actitud estaba teñida de un extraño y respetuoso deseo de protegerla (JM, Sp.) ‘although she was many years older than me my attitude was coloured by a strange and respectful desire to protect her’, ¿Cuántos años le llevas, se puede saber? (MVLl, Pe., dialogue) ‘how many years older than her are you, may one know?’

6.2  Irregular comparative forms There are five adjectives and adverbs that have irregular comparative forms: Adjective


Comparative singular

Comparative plural (adjective only)



bien well






mal badly






menor/más pequeño

menores/más pequeños




mayor/más grande

mayores/más grandes



few/not much


menos (invariable)


Important: these comparative forms have no separate feminine forms. (1)  when the above words are used as adverbs only the singular form is used: Sus hermanas hablan mejor que ella Aquí estamos mejor

Her/His sisters speak better than she does It’s better for us here/We’re better off here

(2)  Menos and más can be adjectives or adverbs: hablas más/menos que antes ‘you talk more/less than before’ (adverbs), but somos más/menos ‘there are more/fewer of us’ (lit. ‘we are more/ fewer’). (3)  Use of más or menos with these comparative forms, e.g. *más mejor, is as incorrect as English forms like *‘more better’, *‘less worse’. One says mucho mejor/peor ‘much better/worse’. (4)  The uses of mayor and menor are discussed at 6.8 and 6.9. (5)  Más bueno, más malo are used of moral qualities though mejor/peor are more usual. See 6.3.1 note 3. (6)  No más que means ‘only’: no tengo más dinero que el que ves aquí ‘the only money I’ve got is what you see here’. (7)  Más bien means ‘rather’ or ‘more than anything’ in sentences like esto más bien favorecía al gobierno ‘this rather/more than anything favoured the government’.

76 Comparison of adjectives andadverbs

6.3  Superlative of adjectives See 6.4 for the superlative of adverbs. See 39.15.5. for the use of the subjunctive after superlative expressions.

6.3.1  Superlative of adjectives formed with the definite article In statements of the type ‘the nearest station’, ‘the smallest tree’, the superlative of adjectives (but not of adverbs) is formed with el/la/los/las/lo plus más or menos: él es el más inteligente/el mejor/el menos tímido ‘he’s the most intelligent/the best/the least shy’: una infernal espiral de sangre y muertes an infernal spiral of blood and deaths   que nos ha convertido en el país más    that has turned us into the most unsafe   inseguro y violento del mundo, con la más    and violent country in the world,   alta tasa de homicidios (El Tiempo,  Col.)    with the highest murder rate lo mejor/peor que te puede suceder . . . (See the best/worst thing that can happen    Chapter 8 for the uses of lo)    to you . . . el mejor restaurante de Madrid (See note 2) the best restaurant in Madrid However, in certain cases, listed at 6.3.2, the definite article is not used. (1)  Students of French must avoid repeating the article: l’exemple le plus intéressant = el ejemplo más interesante or el más interesante ejemplo. *El ejemplo el más interesante is not Spanish. (2)  Sentences like ‘the best restaurant in Madrid’ usually require de Madrid, not en. See38.8.3note1 for discussion. (3)  Más bueno/malo can be used of moral qualities instead of mejor/peor: a mí no me gusta pegar a los niños . . . pero es que este/éste es el más malo de todos (EA, Sp., dialogue) ‘I don’t like hitting children, but this one’s the worst of all’, tu papá es el más bueno de todos, más bueno que el mío (MP, Arg., dialogue) ‘your father’s the nicest of all, nicer than mine’.

6.3.2  Superlative of adjectives formed without the definite article The definite article is not used in superlative constructions in the following cases: (a)  When a possessive adjective precedes más or menos (contrast French mon ami le plus loyal): mi más leal amigo/mi amigo más leal my most loyal friend Pero mi capa más profunda se entristeció But the deepest layer in me (lit. ‘my deepest   (ES, Arg.)   layer’) was saddened (b) After ponerse and other verbs of becoming, including quedar(se): María se pone más nerviosa Queda mejor así

Maria gets most nervous It’s best/better like that

Such sentences could also be understood as comparatives. The superlative meaning can be made clear by using ser + el que or quien: María es la que/quien se pone más nerviosa, este/éste es el que queda mejor. (c)  When the superlative does not involve comparison with another noun (this includes cases in which something is compared with itself):

6.5  Más/menos que or más/menos de?


El idealismo siempre es más fácil Idealism is always easiest (or ‘easier’)   cuando uno es joven    when one’s young Los domingos es cuando la lluvia es It’s on Sundays that the rain is most   más deprimente   depressing Aquí es donde el Rin es más romántico This is where the river Rhine is at its most    romantic (the Rhine compared with itself) No recuerdo cuándo fui más feliz I don’t remember when I was happiest Compare the following where true comparison with another noun is involved: el amor sin celos es el más noble (compared with other loves) ‘love without jealousy is the noblest’, las pizzas con anchoas son las mejores ‘pizzas with anchovies are (the) best’. (e)  In the construction qué . . . más ‘what a . . .!’: Qué hombre más cabeza dura . . .   (MP, Arg., dialogue) ¡Qué respuesta más cínica!

What an obstinate man . . . What a cynical answer!

6.4  Superlative of adverbs (including más and menos) The definite article cannot be used to form the superlative of an adverb (including más and menos used as adverbs). Students of French must remember not to use the article: compare c’est Richard qui danse le mieux and Ricardo es quien mejor baila. Examples: Cuando más rápido habla es cuando está nervioso It’s when he’s nervous that he talks fastest Era el cuento que mejor nos permitía pelear It was the short story that allowed us to   (ABE, Pe.)    quarrel most (lit. ‘best’; i.e. ‘short stories    provoked our greatest quarrels’) . . . el ser que más lo amaba y al que más . . . the person who loved him most and   amaba (GGM, Col.)    whom he loved most El patrón fue uno de los que más peces The skipper was one of those who caught   capturó (Granma, Cu.)    most fish (1) The difference between el que más me gusta and el que me gusta más ‘the one I like more/most’ is one of emphasis, the former being stronger and therefore more likely to carry a superlative meaning. Note that with the verb gustar, más must be used, not mejor; contrast English ‘I like this one best/most’.

6.5  Más/menos que or más/menos de? Important: más de is used before numbers or quantities: Mi abuelo tiene más de cien años Son más de las tres y media Estaba seguro de que no aguantarías    quieta durante más de seis meses    (AM, Mex., dialogue)

My grandfather is more than 100 years old It’s past three thirty I was sure you wouldn’t stay still for more    than six months

Compare the following examples in which the expression following más or menos is not a quantity: Este restaurante es más caro que antes Cansa más el viaje que el empleo

This restaurant is dearer than before The commuting is more tiring than the job

78 Comparison of adjectives andadverbs Le escriben de Italia más que a nosotros They write to him from Italy more than   (MP, Arg., dialogue)    they do to us (1)  No más de ‘not more than’ must not be confused with no . . . más que . . . meaning ‘only’. Contrast Juan no compró más de veinte libros ‘Juan bought twenty books’ or ‘fewer/not more than twenty’ and Juan no compró más que veinte libros ‘Juan bought only twenty books’. Also no he pasado en Marbella más que unos días (SP, Sp., dialogue) ‘I’ve only spent a couple of days in Marbella’, las clases de pintura no eran más que una manera más entretenida de pasar el tiempo (GGM, Col.) ‘the art classes were only a more entertaining way of killing time’. (2)  In the following examples que must be used, even though a number follows: tiene más fuerzas que tres hombres juntos ‘(s)he’s stronger than three men together’, habló más que las otras cinco ­personas ‘(s)he talked more than the other five people’. Here the comparison is not with the numbers but with the strength of three men, the talking done by five people. Spanish thus avoids an ambiguity that affects English: compare comió más que tres personas ‘(s)he ate more than three people (would eat)’ and comió (a) más de tres personas ‘(s)he ate more than three people’ (cannibalism).

6.6 When to use más/menos del/de la/de los/de las que and más/menos de lo que Important: the following sentence can be translated in two ways: ‘the bookshop sells more books in September than (it sells) in February’: (a)  la librería vende más/menos libros en septiembre que en febrero (b)  la librería vende más libros en septiembre de los que vende en febrero Just as in English ‘it sells’ can be dropped so sentence (b) could be replaced by sentence (a).    However, this short cut is not possible in Spanish if the second verb is a different word, and often impossible if the verb is repeated but is in a different tense. In such cases, a special construction is obligatory in Spanish, but not in English: (c) La librería vende más libros en septiembre de los que compra en febrero   The bookshop sells more books in September than it buys in February (d) La librería ha vendido más libros de los que vendió el año pasado   The bookshop has sold more books than it sold last year English-speakers constantly produce incorrect translations of sentences like (c) and (d), e.g. *. . . vende más libros en septiembre **que compra en febrero ‘sells more in September than it buys in February’ or *has traído más harina **que necesitamos’ for the correct has traído más harina de la que necesitamos ‘you’ve brought more flour than we need’. The rule is: (a)  If a comparison is made with a clause which contains a gendered direct object del que must be used and it must agree in number and gender with the noun or pronoun it refers to: Tiene más zapatos de los que tiene su madre (S)he’s got more shoes than her/his mother has    (could be shortened to tiene más zapatos    que su madre but the rest of these    examples require a form of del que) La conozco desde hace aún más años de los I’ve known her for even more years than   que lleva fuera de España (JM, Sp., dialogue)    she has been out of Spain . . . más novedades de las que Diego hubiera . . . more novelties than Diego could have   podido imaginar (AM, Mex.)    imagined

6.7  Más as a colloquial intensifier


Tienen mejores posibilidades de las que yo They have better opportunities than I    podría tener jamás (EP, Mex. dialogue)    could ever have . . . al frente de trescientos hombres . . . at the head of 300 armed men – many   more than he has led before   armados — muchos más de los que ha   mandado nunca . . . (MVLl, Pe.) . . . más dinero del que harías en el resto de tu . . . more money than you’d make in the   vida en Miami o donde sea (CP, Arg.)    rest of your life in Miami or anywhere else (b)  If the comparison is made with a genderless word or phrase, e.g. a verb phrase, the invariable phrase de lo que must be used: Es menos tonto de lo que crees He’s less stupid than you think   (crees is genderless) Nos lo explicarán mejor de lo que se lo They will explain it to us better than they    explicaron a ellos (se lo explicaron is   explained it to them   genderless) El viento me vuelve mucho más loca de lo que The wind drives me much crazier than    mi marido y exmaridos dicen que estoy    my husband and ex-husbands say I am    (CRG, Sp. ‘Dicen que estoy’ is genderless) No estás ni la mitad de moreno de lo que You’re not half as brown/tanned as Celia is   está Celia (genderless phrase está Celia) No me lo agradezcas más de lo que merezco Don’t thank me for it more than I deserve    (LS, Sp., dialogue. Genderless merezco) Así que . . . debía de ser aún más rico de lo que So he must have been even richer than   me imaginaba (JM, Sp., dialogue)    I’d imagined Convertirse en inversionista es más fácil Becoming an investor is easier than you   de lo que crees (Excélsior, Mex.)   think (1)  Popular English also uses a similar construction in comparisons: ?‘she’s smarter than what you think’, ?‘you’ve brought more than what we need’ for the standard ‘. . . than you think’, ‘than we need’. (2)  The use of del que or de lo que seems unnecessary to English-speakers, but Spanish needs it because más/menos de can only precede noun phrases, and also because más que before a verb or adjective usually means ‘rather than’ or ‘instead of’: gasta más que gana ‘(s)he spends more (i.e.‘rather’) than earns’, i.e. (s)he isn’t an earner but a spender. Compare gasta más de lo que gana ‘(s)he spends more (money) than (s)he earns’. (3)  Que alone was sometimes used in these sentences in good writers in the past, cf. Unamuno (Sp., writing before 1920), porque España ha tenido un proceso mucho más homogéneo que se cree ‘because Spain has had a much more homogeneous process than is believed’; nowadays . . . de lo que se cree. (4)  French is free of the problems raised by del/de lo que, but, unlike Spanish, it uses a redundant negative in comparisons with a clause: il en sait plus qu’il n’avoue = él sabe más de lo que admite ‘he knows more than he admits’.

6.7  Más as a colloquial intensifier Más is often used as an intensifier without a comparative meaning in familiar speech on both continents, e.g. está más borracho . . . ‘is he drunk!’ See 35.4.4.

80 Comparison of adjectives andadverbs For the standard construction qué vida más triste ‘what a sad life!’, ¡qué hombre más guapo! ‘what an attractive man!’, see 6.3.2e.

6.8  Uses of mayor Mayor, which means both ‘greater’ and ‘bigger’, is used as follows: (a)  In the same way as más grande ‘bigger’ in comparisons involving physical objects, although it is not normally used of small things like pins and insects, etc., and its use for physical comparisons is more characteristic of written language: Esta aula es más grande/mayor que la otra Mallorca es la más grande/la mayor de las   Baleares ¡Sácale el mayor partido a tu PC!

This lecture room is bigger than the other Majorca is the biggest of the Balearic Islands Get the most out of your personal computer!

(1)  One cannot say *lo mayor: lo más grande lo ponemos abajo ‘let’s put the biggest things underneath’. (b)  To translate ‘older’ or ‘oldest’ when applied to people: Mi hermano es mayor que el tuyo mi hermano mayor Es ya mayor que su hermana mayor . . .   en realidad mayor de lo que fue nunca Teresa    (JM, Sp., dialogue) Era cuatro años mayor que Daniel (AM, Mex.)

My brother is older than yours My elder brother She’s already older than her elder sister . . . actually older than Teresa ever was He was four years older than Daniel

Mayor is also a euphemism for viejo: una señora mayor ‘an elderly lady’. (c)  Mayor is used to mean ‘greater’ or ‘greatest’: su mayor éxito ‘his greatest success’, el mayor criminal del mundo ‘the greatest criminal in the world’, el mayor peligro ‘the greatest danger’, su mayor preocupación/alegría ‘his/her greatest worry/joy’. (d)  Before nouns denoting sizes, intensity, frequency, power or quantity, mayor or más can be used, with mayor considered more elegant: mayor/más anchura ‘greater width’, mayor/más intensidad, mayor/más fuerza ‘greater strength’, mayor/más potencia ‘more power’, mayor/más frecuencia ‘greater frequency’, mayor/más peso ‘more weight’. Further examples: Más acentuado será el sabor del ajo, cuanta The greater the quantity it contains, the more   mayor cantidad lleve (cookery book, Sp.)    pronounced the garlic flavour will be A mayor servicio prestado, mayor dignidad The greater the service done, the greater   (El Diario de Hoy, ES)    the dignity Deseo recibir mayor información I would like to receive more information In all the examples under (d) más is possible and much more usual in relaxed styles. (e) Before número or words and phrases indicating number, mayor is obligatory: en el mayor número de casos ‘in a greater number of cases’, mayor índice de mortalidad infantil ‘a higher rate of infant mortality’, mayor incidencia de accidentes de tráfico ‘a higher rate of traffic accidents’, la mayor parte de las víctimas ‘the majority of the victims’. Note the agreement of mucho in mucha mayor velocidad ‘much greater speed’. See 10.12. note 1. (f)  Set phrases: mayor de edad ‘of age’, hacerse mayor ‘to get old’, ganado mayor ‘livestock’ (horses, cows, mules only), calle mayor ‘high street’.

6.11  ‘The more . . . the more . . .’/‘the less . . . the less . . .’


(g)  Más grande can be used as a superlative: el más grande/el mayor pensador moderno ‘the greatest modern thinker’, but not in pejorative statements: el mayor granuja del país ‘the biggest rogue in the country’ (not el más grande).

6.9  Uses of menor Menor, unlike mayor, is not used for physical size: esta habitación es más pequeña que esa/ésa, not*menor que esa/ésa; ella es más pequeña de tamaño/más baja ‘she’s smaller in size’, not *menor de tamaño. However, it can be used for dimensions where English would allow ‘less’: el área esmenor de lo que parece ‘the area is less/smaller than it looks’. Note also mi hermano menor/ pequeño ‘myyounger brother’, but mi hermano es más joven/pequeño que yo ‘my brother is youngerthanme’. Also el más pequeño de la familia ‘the youngest in the family’, not *el menor de la familia. *Lo menor is also impossible: lo más pequeño ‘what’s smallest’/‘the smallest things’. Menor is used in the same contexts as mayor in (b), (c), (d) and (e) in the previous section. Examples: Diego es tres años menor que Martita y cuatro Diego is three years younger than   que Sergio (CRG, Sp.)    Martita and four years younger than   Sergio Virginia era unos meses menor que yo Virginia was a few months younger than me    (AM, Mex., dialogue) Usted no tendrá la menor dificultad (or You won’t have the slightest difficulty   mínima or más pequeña) El riesgo de un enfrentamiento es cada The risk of a confrontation is declining   vez menor (1)  Common set phrases: menor de edad ‘under age’, apto para menores ‘suitable for minors/young people’, menores de 18 años ‘under 18 years old’.

6.10  Mucho más, mucho menos, poco más, etc. Important: before más, menos, mayor and menor, when these four words qualify a noun, mucho and poco are adjectives and must agree in number and gender with the following noun – a point that English-speakers tend to forget: tienen muchos menos hijos que tú ‘they have far fewer children than you’. See 10.12 note 1 for a discussion.

6.11  ‘The more . . . the more . . .’/‘the less . . . the less . . .’ Cuanto más . . . más . . ., cuanto menos . . . menos . . . are the standard formulas on both continents (no accent on cuanto): cuantas más fotos, mejor the more photos the better cuantos más chicos vengan, mejor the more boys who come the better Cuanto mayor sea la distancia de una The greater the distance of a galaxy from   galaxia a la Tierra, más deprisa se aleja    the Earth, the faster it recedes   (Abc, Sp. For deprisa/de prisa see 35.3.1) Cuanto más pensaba más me afligía (JC, Arg., The more I thought, the more upset I got   dialogue)

82 Comparison of adjectives andadverbs (1)  Use of mientras in this construction is less frequent in Spain but is very common in Latin America. Contra is heard in popular speech in many places including Spain but it is stigmatized. Entre más/menos is considered correct in Mexico and Central America but is stigmatized elsewhere: Mientras más pienses en ella, más tuya la The more you think of her, the more   harás (CF, Mex., dialogue)    you will make her yours . . . la cabeza gacha, entre menos me vea, mejor . . . with my head bowed, the less he    (EP, Mex., dialogue)    sees of me the better ?Aquí, contra menos somos, peor avenidos Here, the fewer of us there are the worse   estamos (MD, Sp., rural speech)    we get on (2) The NGLE 205j notes but does not recommend a popular tendency in Latin America to make cuanto invariable in phrases like ?cuanto más fotos mejor, for cuantas más . . . (3)  ‘Not so much . . . but that . . .’ may be translated by tanto . . . cuanto: no es tanto que entre dos personas . . . no haya secretos porque así lo deciden . . . cuanto que no es posible dejar de contar . . . (JM, Sp.) ‘it’s not so much that there are no secrets between two people because they decide that it should be that way, but that it’s not possible to avoid telling’.

6.12  ‘More and more . . .’, ‘less and less . . .’ Cada vez más/menos are the usual Spanish equivalents: Está cada vez más delgado He’s getting thinner and thinner Yo vengo cada dos o tres I come [to Cuba] every two or three years    años y cada vez está peor (JPG, Cu., dial.)    and it gets worse and worse

6.13  Superlative time expressions A neuter construction with lo may be required: Lo más tarde que cenamos es a las ocho Lo antes/Lo más temprano que puedo salir   de casa es a la una . . . La boda tenía que ser lo más pronto posible    (ES, Mex., dial)

We have dinner/supper at eight at the latest The earliest I can leave home is at one . . . The wedding had to be as soon as possible

6.14 Miscellaneous translations of English comparatives and superlatives Todos le interesaban, el párroco no el que All the men interested her/him, not least   menos    the parish priest Ninguno trabaja mucho, y tú menos que None of them works much, and you least   todos   of all lo menos que podrías hacer . . . the least you could do . . . Estoy agradecidísimo/muy agradecido I’m most/extremely grateful De los dos, este libro es el que más se lee Of the two, this book is read more/the most En esas circunstancias la gastronomía es In those circumstances gastronomy is the    lo de menos (MVM, Sp.)    least important part of it

6.15  Comparisons of equality


Dale cuanto dinero puedas/Dale todo el dinero Give him/her as much money as you can   que puedas la mejor solución posible the best possible solution el segundo mejor/peor the second best/worst la segunda mujer más guapa del mundo the second most attractive woman in the   world Sabe sacar el mejor partido de todo (S)he knows how to make the most of   everything Tan duquesa es como mi padre She’s as much a duchess as I am . . . (ironic;    lit. ‘she’s as much a duchess as my father’)

6.15  Comparisons of equality 6.15.1  Tan como, tanto como The formula is tan . . . como or tanto . . . como ‘as . . . as’, not tanto . . . que which means ‘so much that’, as in rio/se rio tanto que por poco revienta ‘(s)he laughed so much (s)he nearly burst’. Tan is used before adjectives, adverbs and nouns used as adjectives; tanto is used before como itself, before nouns and when nothing follows: No soy tan joven como tú Usted lo sabe tan bien como yo (MVLl, Pe.,   dialogue) No eres tan hombre como él No hablo tanto como tú Tanto los chicos como las chicas

I’m not as young as you You know as well as I do You’re not as much of a man as he is I don’t talk as much as you Both boys and girls

(1)  Tanto como can also indicate contrasting equality: trabaja tanto para divertirse como para ganar dinero ‘(s)he works as much for amusement as to earn money’. Tanto . . . cuanto can be used instead in literary styles. This construction is not used when there is no implied contrast: Manuel y Teresa trabajan en informática ‘M. and T. work in computing’, not tanto M. como T . . .

6.15.2  Igual que, lo mismo que, tal como These are used to express equality. Igual que is used after verbs, not igual a (for which see 6.15.3): Escribe igual que/lo mismo que tú (not *igual   como, *lo mismo como) Me trató igual que siempre (GGM, Col.)

(S)he writes the same way as you She treated me the same as always

(1)  Comparison of equality with verb phrases can also be expressed by the formula del mismo modo que/de la misma manera que/de igual modo que/de igual manera que: argüía de la misma manera que muchos filósofos de la época ‘(s)he argued in the same way as many philosophers of the day’. (2)  Diferente, distintos: es diferente del que tú tienes ‘it’s different to/from the one you have’, esta silla es diferente de la otra ‘this chair’s different to/from the other’, es diferente/distinto a ti ‘he’s different to/from you’. The construction diferente a is found in Latin America and is heard in Spain, although Seco (1998), 164, says it is uncommon in educated usage in European Spanish. Diverso takes de in Spain, either de or a in Latin America. (3)  Note the following translations of ‘exactly/just as . . .’ lo hice tal como me lo dijiste/lo hice exactamente como me lo dijiste ‘I did it just as you told me to/exactly as you told me’.

84 Comparison of adjectives andadverbs

6.15.3  Igual or igualmente? Igualmente means ‘equally’, but igual, as well as being an adjective meaning ‘equal’, is an invariable adverb in its own right meaning ‘the same’. Compare otros problemas igualmente difíciles ‘other equally difficult problems’ and una bata que le caía igual que hecha a medida (LG, Sp.) ‘a housecoat that fitted her exactly as if made to measure’. Further examples: Cuando te conozcan sabrán apreciarte igual When they get to know you they’ll    que yo (LO, Cu., dialogue)    value you the same way as I do Eres igual a tu padre (ES, Mex., dialogue) You’re just like your father Es igual que tú (also igual a ti)/Es lo mismo (S)he’s the same as you   que tú Tú eres igualmente delgado/Tú eres igual de You’re just as slim   delgado Lo hace igual de bien que tú (S)he does it as well as you (1) Latin-American colloquial, but not formal styles, tend to make the adverb igual agree in number: son iguales de grandes for son igual de grandes ‘they’re equally large’. (2) In Spain, igual may be used colloquially to mean ‘maybe’ (i.e. the same as quizá, tal vez or a lo mejor). See 20.2.4.

6.15.4  Como para . . . Como para (or simply para) is used after bastante and lo suficiente, as in eBay ha vendido suficientes automóviles como para rodear la luna más de cuatro veces (Excélsior, Mex.) ‘eBay has sold enough cars to go round the Moon more than four times’.

7 Demonstrative adjectives and pronouns The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • • •

Forms of the demonstratives (Section 7.1) The position of demonstrative adjectives (Section 7.2) When should one write demonstrative with an accent? (Section 7.3) The difference between este/ese/aquel and éste/ése/aquél (Section 7.4) Uses of aquel (Section 7.4.2) Translating ‘the former’ and ‘the latter’ (Section 7.4.3) Some translation problems involving demonstratives (Section 7.5)

Demonstrative adjectives and pronouns are those that mean ‘this’, ‘that’, these’, ‘those’. Spanish differs from French, German and English in having two words for ‘that’, ese and aquel, depending on the distance in time or space between the speaker and the thing referred to. The demonstratives have neuter forms, esto, eso and aquello, which are discussed separately in Chapter 8, though it is worth repeating here that these should not be used to refer to people: este/ éste es mi nuevo profesor, not *esto es mi nuevo profesor ‘this is my new teacher’.

7.1 Forms of demonstrative adjectives and pronouns this

that (near)

that (far)














those (near)

those (far)









(1) See 7.3 for when to write these with an accent. (2) Important: the masculine singular forms do not end in -o! (3) Esta, esa and aquella should be used before feminine nouns beginning with stressed a- or ha-: esta agua ‘this water’, esa aula ‘that lecture hall’, aquella haya ‘that beech tree over there’ (see 3.1.2 for a list of these nouns). This is the practice of well-edited texts everywhere, but forms like este arma ‘this weapon’, este área ‘this area’ are very common in spontaneous speech and quite often appear in informal writing. (4) In Latin America este is used and abused like the English ‘er . . .’ to fill pauses while the speaker is thinking.

86 Demonstrative adjectives andpronouns (5)  When two or more nouns are involved, the demonstratives are repeated unless the nouns refer to the same thing: este hombre y esta mujer ‘this man and (this) woman’ but este poeta y filósofo ‘this poet and philosopher’ (same man).

7.2  Position of demonstrative adjectives Normally before the noun: esta miel ‘this honey’, ese árbol ‘that tree’, aquellas regiones ‘those regions’. In spoken language they may appear after the noun, in which case they strongly imply that the thing referred to is familiar. This may imply sarcasm and the construction should be used cautiously. Compare esa mujer ‘that woman’ (neutral tone) and la mujer esa ‘that woman . . .’ ­(sarcastic or insinuating). Nevertheless, the construction may simply indicate a reference to something well-known, as in ¿quiere la bata esta? Se va a enfriar (CMG, Sp., dialogue) ‘do you want this dressing gown/US bathrobe? You’ll get cold’. Further examples: Pero con la agencia esa que ha montado, se But with that agency he’s set up, he’s   está forrando el riñón (ABV, Sp., dialogue)    simply raking it in El tipo ese anda ya muy cerca de nuestra pista That guy’s already hot on our trail    (GZ, Mex., dialogue) Me voy de aquí, no resisto el frío este I’m leaving. I can’t stand this cold (i.e.   (interview, Granma, Cu.)   New York’s) . . . desde la tarde aquella en que me ayudaron . . . after that afternoon when they    a llenar los formularios de ingreso a la    helped me fill in my Social Security   seguridad social (ABE, Pe., Sp. rellenar un   application forms   formulario) (1) Important: el/la/los/las are obligatory when a demonstrative adjective follows the noun: la gente aquella. (2)  The demonstrative after a noun remains an adjective, so it is not written with an accent: never *la gente aquélla. In apposition (see Glossary), a following demonstrative is a pronoun: su novia tosía mucho, síntoma este/éste que le preocupaba intensamente ‘his girlfriend was coughing a lot, this being a symptom that worried him intensely’, so traditionalists would use an accent. See the next section for the optional accent on éste.

7.3  When should one write éste, ése, aquél? Our recommendation is never. This has been the advice of the Academy since 1959, reaffirmed in 2010, and it is supported by most well-known Hispanic grammarians, including Seco. But many reputable publishers, including El País, and millions of ordinary citizens still refuse to accept this time-saving rule and continue to distinguish the adjectives from the pronouns by always writing the latter with an accent: un libro como éste/ése/aquél ‘a book like this one/that one’, prefiero éstas a aquéllas ‘I prefer these ones (fem.) to those ones’. In this book, we show both possibilities, e.g. un libro como ese/ése ‘a book like that one’, but we strongly urge students to omit the accent, since misusing it on a demonstrative adjective and writing *éste libro for este libro looks illiterate. (1)  There is an inconsistency in the traditional system. It has always been the practice, even among conservative writers, to omit the accent from demonstrative pronouns that are the antecedent of a relative clause or act as nominalizers (aquel que, este de, etc. (See Glossary for the terminology); the reason for this is not entirely clear. So one writes esta novela es mejor que aquella en

7.4  Uses of este, ese and aquel


que . . . ‘this novel is better than that in which . . .’, este/ese que . . . ‘this/that one that . . .’, aquel de ayer . . . ‘the one from yesterday . . .’, etc. (2)  Omitting the accent can theoretically cause ambiguities like esta compra ‘this purchase’ and ésta compra ‘this woman is buying’, but in practice such clashes are rare enough to be ignored or are clarified by context. (3)  Traditionalists should recall that other languages do not need to differentiate demonstrative adjectives and pronouns: cf. Italian questo libro ‘this book’, un libro come questo ‘a book like this’, Spanish traditional spelling este libro/un libro como éste.

7.4  Uses of este, ese and aquel 7.4.1  Uses of the demonstrative adjectives/pronouns (a)  Este/esta/estos/estas refers to things near to or associated with the speaker and is equivalent to ‘this’: este libro ‘this book’, estos arbustos ‘these bushes’, esta catástrofe ‘this catastrophe (that has just happened)’, estas circunstancias ‘these circumstances (that have just arisen/that we are talking about here)’. (b)  As far as physical distance is concerned, ese/esa/esos/esas means ‘that’: ese libro ‘that book’, esos árboles ‘those trees’. It can refer to objects at any distance from the speaker and can therefore in practice always replace aquel when space rather than time is involved. But aquel cannot always replace ese since aquel is not used for things close to the hearer or speaker. (c)  Aquel/aquella/aquellos/aquellas resembles the old English ‘yonder’ or the modern ‘that/those over there’. Spatially it suggests distance and it is rarely obligatory. It is discussed in detail at 7.4.2. este/éste de aquí this one here ese/ése de ahí that one just there aquel/aquél de allí (see 35.6.1 for the that one over there   difference between ahí and allí). no ese/ése sino aquel/aquél not that one, but that one over there Alcánzame ese/aquel libro rojo Pass me that red book Prefiero ese que tú tienes I prefer that one (masc.) that you have En aquel tiempo era un acontecimiento cumplir In those days your fifteenth birthday was   los quince, de veras entraba una en sociedad    an event, you were really entering   (ES, Mex., dialogue)    society ¿Cómo se llama aquella/esa estrella? what’s that star (up there) called? ¿Quién se acuerda ya de aquellas tardes sin who can still remember those   televisión?    evenings without television?

7.4.2  Aquel or ese? Aquel seems to be dying out when it refers to distance in space rather than time: some grammarians complain about a tendency to use ese where aquel is more elegant. For this reason, learners, when in doubt, should probably translate ‘that’ as ese as it is almost always correct. Aquel is used: (a)  When distances in space are compared, aquel implies the more distant item, and it is usual: —¿Quién plantó ese árbol?   —¿Ese/Ése? —No, aquel/aquél No esa torre sino aquella/aquélla

‘Who planted that tree?’ ‘That one?’ ‘No, the one behind’ Not that tower but the one further away

88 Demonstrative adjectives andpronouns Even in these cases ese, perhaps reinforced by some phrase like ese/ése de detrás or ese de más allá, could have been used. (b)  When only one item is involved, it is optionally but usually used to indicate something at some distance from the speaker. The difference between ese libro and aquel libro is about the same as between ‘that book’ and ‘that book over there’: Tráeme aquella/esa taza Bring me that cup (from over there) ¿Ve a aquel hombre que está tragando Do you see that man (over) there swallowing   ron? (EM, Mex. dial. Or ese)   rum? (c)  As far as time is concerned, aquel indicates the past and it is much used for distant memories. En aquella época ‘at that time’ seems more distant than en esa época. Once an event in the past has been mentioned, ese can be used in subsequent references to it: Debe de haber andado ya por los sesenta años He must have been getting on for   cuando se embarcó con aquel horror de   sixty when he fell in with (lit. ‘set   mujer (SP, Mex., dialogue; ese would    sail with’) that frightful woman    imply that he is still with her) Quise llorar aquella noche pero no I wanted to weep that night but I couldn’t   pude (CSG, Mex., dialogue) . . . aquellas estrellas como . . . those stars like shattered ice     un hielo hecho añicos (LG, Sp.   Aquellas for a childhood memory) ¡qué noche aquella/aquélla! What a night that was! ¡qué tiempos aquellos/aquéllos! (not esos/ésos) Those were the days! (1)  Aquel cannot be used for the future: ese lejano día can mean ‘that distant day yet to come’. Aquel lejano día refers to the past. (2)  Aquel que (no written accent) is used and not el que when a preposition plus a relative pronoun follows (as in ‘the one in which . . .’ aquel/aquella en el que/la que, not *el/la en el/la que). See 7.5c and 39.13 for discussion. (3)  Aquel should not be used with a historic present since it is absurd to stress both the remoteness and the closeness of an action: not *en aquel año Cervantes escribe el Quijote ‘in that year Cervantes wrote Don Quixote’ but either en ese año Cervantes escribe el Quijote, or en aquel año Cervantes escribió el Quijote. (4)  For the neuter pronoun aquello see 8.5.

7.4.3  ‘The former, the latter’ Since aquel/aquél denotes something remote and este/éste something close, they conveniently translate ‘former’ and ‘latter’: Existían dos partidos, el conservador y There were two parties, the conservatives   el liberal, este/éste anticlerical y    and the liberals, the latter anticlerical   aquel/aquél partidario de la Iglesia    and the former a supporter of the   Church (1)  Este/éste is much used in writing on its own for ‘the latter’: uno de los guardaespaldas se inclinó hacia el inválido, y este/éste dirigía el brillo de sus gafas oscuras hacia Ornella (LS, Ch.) ‘one of the

7.5  Translation problems involving demonstratives


bodyguards leaned over to the invalid, and the latter directed the glint of his sunglasses towards Ornella’.

7.5  Translation problems involving demonstratives (a)  ‘The . . . which/who’, ‘those . . . who’, etc. El que or quien are the usual equivalents. Aquel que (no accent) is used in formal language: que se ponga de pie la que (or aquella que) ha dicho eso ‘stand up the girl who said that’, etc. See Chapter 40 (Nominalizers) for discussion. (b)  ‘Those of them’, ‘those of you’, etc. Aquellos de is frowned on, except perhaps before ustedes or vosotros: Los que aplaudieron ayer Those of them who applauded yesterday Los nicaragüenses que sabemos la verdad those of us Nicaraguans who know the   truth Aquellos de (entre) ustedes que afirmen eso those of you who claim that Los que no hayan firmado el formulario those (of them/you) who haven’t signed   (*los de ellos or *aquellos de ellos in this    the form    context are not Spanish) (c)  ‘The one in which’, ‘those where’, etc. Aquel que, written without an accent, is a literary alternative for el que when a preposition comes before a relative pronoun. One writes la habitación era más cómoda que aquella en que había dormido antes ‘the room was more comfortable than the one he had slept in before’. Spoken language usually repeats the noun: la habitación era más cómoda que la habitación en la que/donde había dormido antes; *en la en (la) que is not possible. See also 39.13. (d) ‘This/that is why . . .’, ‘this/that is where’, ‘this/that’s who’, ‘this/that was when’, etc. Translating these phrases may involve the problem of ‘cleft’ sentences, e.g. fue por eso por lo que pagó demasiado (Lat. Am. fue por eso que pagó . . .) ‘that’s why he paid too much’. See 41.3 for a discussion. A simpler solution is por eso pagó demasiado . . .

8 Neuter article and neuter pronouns This chapter discusses: • • • • • •

lo bueno, lo más rápido posible (Section 8.2.1) lo inteligentes que son . . . (Section 8.2.2) ello (Section 8.3) Neuter lo as in no lo sé (Section 8.4) vérselas, arreglárselas, etc. (Section 8.4.4) esto, eso, aquello (Section 8.5)

8.1 Neuter gender: general Spanish nouns are either masculine or feminine, but a few pronouns and an article have neuter as well as masculine and feminine gender and they are important in the modern language. Neuter gender is considered necessary in Spanish to refer to concepts, ideas or statements (e.g. a preceding remark or a sentence) which have no grammatical gender. Masculine and feminine articles and pronouns can refer only to nouns or pronouns, present or implied, and nouns and pronouns other than neuter pronouns must be either masculine or feminine. Examples should make this clear: No quiero hablar de aquel/aquél/aquella/ aquélla (for the optional accent on these pronouns see 7.3) No quiero hablar de aquello No me gusta ese/ése/esa/ésa No me gusta eso los nuevos/las nuevas lo nuevo

I don’t want to talk about that one (i.e. some masculine or feminine noun. French celui-là/celle-là) I don’t want to talk about that (Fr. cela) I don’t like that one (Fr. celui-là/celle-là) I don’t like that (Fr. cela) the new ones (masc.)/the new ones (fem.) what is new

For lo que, lo cual as relative pronouns (meaning ‘which . . .’), see 39.6. For lo que and lo de as nominalizers (i.e. ‘the thing that/of . . .’), see 40.1.5 and 40.1.3. For the humorous la que . . . for lo que . . . see 40.1.4. For the colloquial la de meaning ‘the quantity of . . .’ see 3.2.30. For the neuter pronouns todo ‘everything’, algo ‘something’, mucho ‘a lot’ and poco ‘a little’ see Chapter 10.

8.2 The ‘neuter article’ lo 8.2.1 Lo with masculine singular adjectives and participles and adverbs (a) With adjectives and participles: Lo followed by a masculine singular adjective or pronoun, or lo de . . . plus a noun or adverb, may become a sort of abstract noun. This is often an equivalent of an English adjective + ‘thing’, but the translation may require some thought:

8.2  The ‘neuter article’ lo


Lo importante es que digan la verdad The important thing is that they tell the truth Lo bueno de tu casa es que tiene The good thing about your house is that it’s   mucha luz   full of light Para lo único que encontraba tiempo The only thing he found time for was    era para los tres caballos (EP, Mex.)    the three horses Intenta olvidar lo sucedido Try to forget what happened en busca de lo más parecido a un local comercial in search of something most closely   (CP, Arg.)    resembling commercial premises lo ya dicho en el capítulo anterior what was said in the previous chapter lo nunca visto en Estados Unidos what has never been seen before in the USA desde lo alto de la escala de Jacob (AO, Mex.) from the top of Jacob’s ladder Papá se ha enterado de lo nuestro Father has found out about us Lo mío ha sido igual de duro que What happened to me was as tough as   lo de ustedes (GGM, Col., dialogue)        what happened to you Felicitas había estudiado lo justo (SP, Sp.) Felicitas had studied just as much as was   necessary Baja lo de allí arriba Take down the things from up there Ya te contaré lo de mi amiga Josefina I’ll tell you later about (what happened to)    my friend Josefina (b)  With adverbs or adverbial phrases: Combinations of lo + más/menos + an adverb + some phrase meaning ‘as possible’ are particularly common and useful: Cuélgalo lo más arriba que puedas lo más atrás posible lo antes posible . . . Lo antes que puedo salir de casa es a las seis Siempre hacen lo menos posible

Hang it as high/as far up as you can as far back as possible as soon as possible . . . The earliest I can leave home is six o’clock They always do the minimum

(1)  En/a lo de Antonio means ‘in/to Antonio’s house’ (en/a casa de . . .) in Argentina. (2)  In sentences with ser and a few other verbs, the verb agrees with the predicate: lo mejor de la película son los actores (not . . . es los actores) ‘the best thing in the film is (lit. ‘are’) the actors’: see2.3.3. (3)  Other Romance languages lack this useful distinction between gendered and neuter adjectives. In French le plus tragique can mean both ‘the most tragic thing’ and ‘the most tragic one (masc.)’. The Italian il bello e il brutto can mean ‘beauty and ugliness’ (lo bello y lo feo) or ‘the beautiful one (masc.) and the ugly one’ (el bello y el feo). (4)  For the choice between the indicative and the subjunctive in constructions with lo + adjective + es que, e.g. lo increíble/lo curioso es que . . ., see 20.3.14. (5)  Lo is sometimes found with a noun used adjectivally: pues sí, Diego, ya sabes lo desastre que soy (CMG, Sp., dialogue) ‘well yes, Diego, you know what a disaster I am’, ya te salió lo mujer (AM, Mex., dialogue) ‘here comes the woman in you’ (lit. ‘the woman in you came out’), uno de mis tíos dio un discurso sobre lo buen hermano que fue mi padre (DES, Mex.) ‘one of my uncles made a speech about what a good brother my father was’. (6) When bastante and suficiente occur in phrases like ‘clever enough to . . .’, ‘she did it well enough to . . .’ they are preceded by lo and followed by para: el cuello de su gabardina estaba lo bastante abierto para permitirme contemplar el collar de perlas (JM, Sp.) ‘the collar of her raincoat was open enough to

92 Neuter article and neuter pronouns let me see her pearl necklace’, ya tenía lo suficiente para aquellos paseos (SG, Mex.) ‘he already had enough (money) for those excursions’. Como may optionally precede the para, especially when an infinitive follows: era lo suficientemente ingenua como para tragarse cualquier cuento (LS, Ch.) ‘she was naive enough to swallow any story’.

8.2.2  Lo plus adjectives or adverbs translating ‘how’, etc. Lo with an adjective or adverb often translates the English ‘how’ or some similar word plus an adjective or adverb. In this case the adjective must agree with the noun. The construction often occurs after verbs of perception (‘see’, ‘realize’, ‘understand’, ‘know’) and after verbs of liking or disliking: (a)  with adjectives: ¿No se ha fijado en lo delgada que se ha Haven’t you noticed how thin she’s   quedado? (ABV, Sp., dialogue)    become? Lo que resulta increíble es lo modernos y What’s incredible is how modern    antiguos que son al mismo tiempo (ABE, Pe)    and ancient they are at the same time Ya se sabe lo curiosos que somos los People know how curious we journalists   periodistas (JV, Mex., dial.)    are (b)  with adverbs and adverbial phrases Yo llegué confiando en lo bien que lo iba a I arrived sure of what a good time I was   pasar   going to have Haga que hablen de usted por lo bien que Get them talking about you because you   habla inglés (advertisement, Sp.)   speak English so well Si vieras lo mal que patina If you could see how badly (s)he skates Hay que ver lo tarde que es I can’t believe how late it is (lit. ‘you have    to see how late it is’) (1)  A common colloquial construction is con lo + adjective. Translation varies with context: ¿con lo caro que está todo qué me voy a andar comprando un reloj? (EM, Mex., dialogue. Spain probably ¿con lo caro que está todo me iba yo a comprar un reloj?) ‘with everything costing so much am I going to be buying a watch?’, tú, con lo inteligente que eres, a ver si lo puedes abrir ‘you’re so intelligent, let’s see if you can open it’, . . . con lo metomentodo que es ‘. . . since (s)he’s such a nosy-parker’. (2)  De lo más + an adjective is found in familiar speech as an intensifying phrase: viene de lo más arregladita ‘she’s coming all dressed up’, tomaban su cerveza de lo más tranquilos (MVLl, Pe., dialogue) ‘they were drinking their beer really quietly’, hice un pudín de pan. Mi marido me dijo que estaba de lo más bueno (AA, Cu., dialogue) ‘I made a bread pudding. My husband said it was really delicious’. The adjective may remain in the masculine singular form in this construction, e.g. Lucía viene de lo más arreglado ‘Lucy’s coming all dressed up’, las chicas vienen de lo más arreglado ‘the girls are coming all dressed up’, estos dos son de lo más diplomático (MS, Mex., dialogue) ‘these two are so diplomatic’. (3)  In expressions of cause por or de can be used before lo + adjective: no pudieron pasar por logordos que estaban/. . . de (lo) gordos que estaban ‘they couldn’t get through because they were so fat’.

8.4  Lo as a neuter pronoun


8.3  Ello This is a neuter third-person pronoun. It is invariable in form and can only be used to translate ‘it’ when this pronoun does not refer to a specific noun. Compare en cuanto al régimen militar, prefiero no hablar de él ‘as for the military regime, I prefer not to talk about it’ (régimen is masculine singular) and todo fue tremendamente violento, y prefiero no hablar de ello ‘it was all tremendously embarrassing, and I prefer not to talk about it’ (neuter). Ello can be used as a subject pronoun or it can be combined with a preposition, but lo is its direct object form and le its indirect object form: yo lo sabía = ‘I knew it’, never *yo sabía ello; ¿qué le vamos a hacer? (indirect object) ‘what can we do about it?’ (not *. . . a ello) No te preocupes por ello, que no se me olvida Don’t worry about it – I haven’t   (see 37.4.4b for this use of que)   forgotten it (or ‘I won’t forget’) Por ello ya no se fía de nadie Because of that (s)he doesn’t trust    anybody any more Las cosas que no importan no se entienden Things that don’t matter aren’t    porque no se pone uno a ello (CMG, Sp.)    understood because we don’t    apply our minds to it Yo era un autómata del trabajo y de la escuela I thought of nothing but work and school   y fuera de ello nada me interesaba (EP, Mex.)    (lit. ‘I was an automaton of . . .’) and apart    from that nothing interested me (1)  When it is the subject of a verb it is usually translated ‘this’ and it clearly refers to the whole of the preceding utterance (esto could often be used instead). Habitó un siglo en la Ciudad de los He dwelt for a century in the City of the    Inmortales. Cuando la derribaron,    Immortals. When they demolished it    aconsejó la fundación de otra. Ello no debe   he recommended the foundation of   sorprendernos . . . (JLB, Arg.)    another. This should not surprise us . . . (2)  Important: if ello is omitted in such sentences, the following verb will take a nearby gendered noun or pronoun as its subject and the meaning may change: el director dijo que no vamos excedidos con el presupuesto, pero ello no permite que podamos ser extravagantes ‘the director said that we’re not over-budget, but this fact does not allow us to be extravagant’. . . . pero no permite que seamos extravagantes would mean ‘. . . but he doesn’t allow us to be extravagant’.

8.4  Lo as a neuter pronoun 8.4.1  General uses As was stated in the preceding section, lo is the direct object pronoun corresponding to ello (but lo can also mean ‘him’ or ‘it’ referring to masculine nouns; see Chapter 14). Lo as a neuter pronoun does not refer to a noun, but to an idea, action, situation, clause or sentence: ¿Lo hacemos o no? Are we going to do it or not? —¿No sabíais/sabían que estaba prohibido? ‘Didn’t you know it was forbidden?’    —No, no lo sabíamos    ‘No, we didn’t know (it)’

94 Neuter article and neuter pronouns Soy incapaz de hacer eso porque mi orgullo I’m incapable of doing that because    de trabajadora femenina me lo impide    my pride as a woman worker   (CMG, Sp.)    prevents me El ministro lo tiene difícil The minister is in a difficult situation (1)  Le is the indirect object form of lo: ¿qué le vamos a hacer? ‘what can be done about it?’, no le hace (Southern Cone) ‘it’s got nothing to do with it’ (Sp. no tiene (nada) que ver). (2)  Lo is sometimes used with todo to make the latter more specific. Compare Miguel lo sabe todo ‘Miguel knows it all/all about it’ and Miguel sabe todo ‘Miguel knows everything’. (3)  For Latin-American se los dije ‘I said it to them’, standard Spanish se lo dije, see 14.9.2.

8.4.2 ‘Resumptive’ lo Important: lo is used to echo or resume the predicate of ser, estar and parecer, the object of transitive verbs and of haber ‘there is/are’. Spanish does not like to leave these verbs isolated, as English does in a sentence like ¿tolera estar solo, o tolera la necesidad que tenga su cónyuge de estarlo? (quiz on marriage in Abc, Sp.) ‘can you stand being alone, or can you stand your partner’s need to be?’. Compare also lo hacían sentirse estúpido. Pensó: “lo soy”. Lo era, demostró serlo (MVLl, Pe., dialogue) ‘they made him feel stupid. He thought “I am.” He was. He’d shown that he was’;. . .era hermosa como yo no lo sería nunca ‘she was beautiful in a way that I would never be’ (LP, Mex., dialogue), puede que tengan sus neuronas en pleno funcionamiento, pero no lo parece (La Jornada, Mex.) ‘maybe their neurones are working flat-out, but it doesn’t look that way’. Exception: this ‘resumptive’ lo is not used when a gerund is dropped after estar: —¿estás escri­ biendo otra novela? —Sí, estoy/Sí, lo estoy haciendo (not *lo estoy) ‘are you writing another novel?’ ‘Yes, I am.’ (1)  See 34.2.2 for more about resumptive lo with haber ‘there is/are’.

8.4.3  Colloquial use of la for lo La is used in a few colloquial set phrases where one would expect lo. This seems to be more frequent in Latin America than in Spain: la vamos a pasar muy rico (SG, Mex., dialogue; Sp. lo vamos a pasar bien) ‘we’re going to have a great time’, si los matan la pagarán también ustedes, la pagarán sus familias (GGM, Col., dialogue; Sp. lo pagarán), ‘if they kill them you’ll pay for it too, your families will pay’, te la estás jugando ‘you’re taking a big risk’ (Spain also), se la está pegando con su primo ‘(s)he’s cheating on him with her/his/your cousin’ (Spain also), te la vas a ganar ‘you’re asking for trouble’.

8.4.4  Vérselas, arreglárselas, habérselas, etc. The feminine plural las is used idiomatically with a few se verbs where we would expect lo. Some of these verbs have unexpected meanings. The most common are: agenciárselas to ‘fix’ (‘something’) apañárselas* to manage/to cope arreglárselas to find a way to do something cantárselas to tell someone a few home truths dárselas de to fancy oneself as echárselas de to fancy oneself as entendérselas con to get to grips with habérselas con to be faced with

ingeniárselas para to manage things so that jugárselas to risk everything prometérselas muy felices to have high hopes traérselas to be difficult/treacherous vérselas con to have it out with vérselas y deseárselas* to find something  difficult

96 Neuter article and neuter pronouns (2) Important: in some sentences the pronoun can refer either to a situation or to a specific noun, in which case the neuter and gendered forms are interchangeable: no tengo ni talento, ni fuerza. Esa/Ésa es la verdad (ES, Arg., dialogue; eso also possible) ‘I have neither talent nor strength. That’s the truth’; esto es una operación militar (GGM, Col., dialogue. Esta/ésta es . . . also possible) ‘this is a military operation’. Note also: ¿qué es esto? ‘what’s this?’, ¿quién es este/éste? ‘who’s this (man or boy)?’, este/éste es el problema ‘this is the problem’, esto es un problema ‘this is a problem’. When the subject of the verb is a noun, the pronoun agrees with it: la verdad es esta/ésta ‘the truth is this’, los problemas son estos/éstos ‘the problems are these’. (3) The neuter forms should not be used to refer to living things. One says esta/ésta es la mujer/ la esposa de Miguel ‘this is Miguel’s wife’, not esto es . . .; ese/ése es el perro del vecino ‘that’s the neighbour’s dog’, not ‘eso es . . .’ (= ‘that thing is . . .’). But esto es el móvil de mi hijo ‘this is my son’s mobile phone/cell phone’. The neuter form is insulting when applied to a person: si esto es un marido que venga Dios y lo vea ‘if this (thing) is a husband, let God come and see it!’ (exasperated wife). (4)  Aquello de (que) or eso de (que) often corresponds to ‘the saying that’: Spengler dijo aquello de que “la civilización en última instancia siempre es salvada por un puñado de soldados” ‘Spengler made that remark that “in the final instance civilization is always saved by a handful of soldiers”’, pensé que lo más parecido que existe a eso de ir por lana y volver trasquilado era . . . (ABE, Pe.) ‘I thought that the nearest thing to that saying “to go for wool and come back fleeced” was . . .’. Esto de que also has a similar meaning: . . . pero esto de que ha ganado cinco mil euros, no lo creo ‘but as for him/her saying (s)he’s won five thousand euros, that I don’t believe . . .’.

8.5  Neuter demonstrative pronouns


All are in use on both continents except those marked with an asterisk, which seem to be confined to Spain. Examples: Si haces eso te las vas a tener que haber If you do that you’re going to have to   conmigo or te las vas a tener que ver conmigo    have it out with/face up to me Él se las echa/se las da de ligón (colloquial, He fancies himself as a great womanizer   Spain) Eso me pasó por dármelas de genio That happened to me because I   (GGM, Col., dialogue)    figured I was a genius A pesar del susto se las arregló para dejarles una Despite the fright he managed to leave them    azucarera y una jarrita con leche en el centro    a sugar bowl and a small jug of milk in the    de la mesa (MS, Mex.)   middle of the table Tenía que ingeniárselas para mantener She had to do her best to keep her    ocupados a sus guardianes (GGM, Col.)    guards occupied Por eso te digo que ella también se las trae That’s why I’m telling you that she’s   (CRG, Sp., dialogue)    difficult too La Policía se las ve y se las desea para The police have a hard time controlling them   controlarlos (1)  The first-person present plural of habérselas is nos las habemos, not the expected nos las hemos: en don Luis nos las habemos nuevamente con el Hombre y la Mujer (J. Montesinos, Sp., quoted Seco 1998, 237) ‘in Don Luis we are dealing once again with Man and Woman’.

8.5  Neuter demonstrative pronouns These take the invariable forms esto, eso and aquello. Since they cannot be confused with demonstrative adjectives they never have a written accent – something that both learners and native speakers constantly forget. They refer to no noun in particular (cf. Fr. ceci, cela). The difference between esto ‘this’, eso ‘that’ and aquello ‘that’ (distant) reflects the difference between este, ese and aquel, discussed at 7.4: ¿Quién ha hecho esto? Who did this? —Quisiera llamar a cobro revertido. ‘I’d like to make a reverse-charge/US   —De eso nada    collect call.’ ‘No way/out of the question’ Había comprendido cómo todo aquello jamás I had understood how all that never   tuvo nada que ver con el humor ni con el   had anything to do with humour   buen humor (ABE, Pe.)    or good temper ¿Qué hay de aquello/eso de los billetes falsos? What’s happening about that business    of the forged notes? ¿Conocía el significado de aquello? (JV, Mex.) Did he know the meaning of that business? ¿Cómo podía yo pensar que aquello que How could I think that that thing    parecía tan mentira era verdadero?    which seemed such a lie was true?   (JC, Arg., dialogue) (1)  Important: the difference between a neuter or non-neuter demonstrative may be crucial. Compare esto es un desastre ‘this (situation) is a disaster’ and este/éste es un desastre – ‘this (man, boy, book or some other masc. noun) is a disaster’. If the speaker is thinking of a specific noun, the masculine or feminine pronoun must be used as appropriate unless the speaker is referring to a type of thing. Pointing to a coat in a shop window one could say eso es lo que quiero ‘that’s the (type/sort of) thing I want’ or ese/ése es el que quiero ‘that’s the one I want’.

9 Possessive adjectives and pronouns This chapter deals with words meaning ‘my’, ‘your’, ‘his’, ‘her’, our’, ‘their’; ‘mine’, ‘yours’, etc. The main points discussed are: • • • • •

Forms of possessive adjectives and pronouns (Section 9.2) Uses of mi, tu, su, nuestro, vuestro, su (Section 9.3) Replacement of possessive adjectives by el/la/los/las (Section 9.3.4) Uses of mío, tuyo, suyo (Section 9.4) Detrás mío, delante suyo for detrás de mí, delante de él/ella/usted (Section 9.7)

9.1 General Spanish possessives have two forms. The short forms, mi, tu (no accents!), su, etc., appear in front of a noun or noun phrase and correspond to the English ‘my’, ‘your’, ‘his’, ‘her’, etc. The full forms, mío, tuyo, suyo, etc. roughly correspond to ‘mine’, ‘yours’, ‘hers’, etc., and can only follow a noun or stand alone. In all cases, the possessive agrees with the number and in some cases the gender of the thing possessed, not of the possessor. Since the possessives do not in themselves indicate the gender of the possessor, su libro can mean ‘his book’, ‘her book’, ‘your book’ (de usted or de ustedes) or ‘their book’. The most important difference between English and Spanish is that the latter frequently uses the definite article (el/la/los/las) and not a possessive adjective when the identity of the possessor is obvious: me he roto el brazo ‘I’ve broken my arm’, dame la mano ‘give me your hand’ (see 9.3.4). This occurs more frequently than in French and it sometimes confuses English speakers.

9.2 Forms of the possessives 9.2.1 ‘my’, ‘your’, ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘our’, etc. (possessive adjectives) Personal pronoun








tú (and vos, where it is used)

tu (no accent!)


your (familiar)








your (formal)


nuestro (masc.) nuestra (fem.)

nuestros (masc.) nuestras (fem.)



vuestro (masc.) vuestra (fem.)

vuestros (masc.) vuestras (fem.)

your (familiar. Spain only)

98 Possessive adjectives andpronouns Personal pronoun











your (formal)

(1) Important: in Latin America su/sus is the only second-person plural possessive since vuestro is not used outside Spain; see 9.6 for discussion. For the use of vos for tú see 11.3.

9.2.2  ‘Mine’, ‘yours’, ‘hers’, ‘his’, ‘ours’, etc. (possessive pronouns) The following forms are marked for number and gender (vuestro is not used in Lat. Am.). See 9.4 for the use of these words. Personal pronoun

Masc. singular and plural

Fem. singular and plural



mío – míos

mía – mías



tuyo – tuyos

tuya – tuyas

yours (familiar)


suyo – suyos

suya – suyas



suyo – suyos

suya – suyas

yours (formal)


nuestro – nuestros

nuestra – nuestras



vuestro – vuestros

vuestra – vuestras

yours (familiar)


suyo – suyos

suya – suyas



suyo – suyos

suya – suyas

yours (formal)

9.3 Uses of the possessive adjectives (mi, tu, su, nuestro,etc.) 9.3.1  Basic uses These words agree in number with the thing possessed. Nuestro and vuestro agree in gender as well with the thing possessed. This is counter-intuitive for English speakers and also for Spanishspeaking learners of English who quite often say things like ‘she has forgotten “his” handbag’ for ‘her handbag’, presumably because el bolso ‘handbag’ is masculine: mi padre/mis padres mi madre/mis flores ¿Dónde está tu coche? ¿Dónde están tus zapatos? Me fío de su amigo Me fío de sus amigos nuestro dinero/nuestra dignidad vuestra casa/vuestras casas (Sp.) Usted dejó sus cosas aquí Ustedes dejaron sus cosas aquí Si ellos no quieren dejarnos su    cortacésped . . .

my father/my parents my mother/my flowers Where’s your car? Where are your shoes? I trust his/her/your/their friend I trust his/her/your/their friends our money/our dignity your house/your houses You (sing.) left your/his/her/their things here. You (plur.) left your/his/her/their things here. If they don’t want to lend us   their/your/his/her lawnmower . . .

(1) As can be seen, su and sus mean several things. 9.5a shows how to remove the ambiguities.

9.3  Uses of the possessive adjectives (mi, tu, su, nuestro,etc.)


9.3.2  Possessives with more than one noun If more than one noun is involved, Spanish differs from English in that the former uses one possessive only when the nouns refer to the same, or to aspects of, the same thing. One says mi padre y mi madre ‘my father and mother’ (different persons), mi chaqueta y mi corbata ‘my jacket and tie’ (different things), but mi amigo y compañero ‘my friend and colleague’ (same person), su paciencia y valor ‘his/her patience and courage’ (aspects of a single virtue).

9.3.3  Possessive in military usage In military circles, possessives are used to address officers: sí, mi general ‘yes, General’, no, mi coronel ‘no, Colonel’, a sus órdenes mi teniente ‘awaiting orders Lieutenant!’.

9.3.4  Definite article instead of possessives Important: Spanish frequently uses the definite article where English uses possessive adjectives. Saqué mi pañuelo de mi bolsillo ‘I took my handkerchief out of my pocket’ is not incorrect but it sounds unnatural: saqué el pañuelo del bolsillo (provided it is from my own pocket) is more idiomatic. The Academy’s Esbozo . . ., 3.10.9a, says that sentences like pase sus vacaciones en la playa de X, ‘spend your holidays/vacation on the beach at X’ for pase las vacaciones . . . sound foreign. The definite article is used when a verb, pronoun, or context make it clear who the possessor is. The article is therefore much used with parts of the body, and is normal with clothing and other close possessions, e.g. wristwatches, purses, wallets, pens, glasses, etc. This may confuse English speakers. ‘Have you got the passport’ normally implies that we do not know whose it is. In ¿tienes el pasaporte? the second person of the verb shows that the sentence probably means ‘have you got your passport’ – unless context shows that someone else is involved. In the following sentence only the fact that purses are associated with women makes us translate el monedero as ‘my purse’ (the speaker is female): metí en una bolsa de playa el bronceador, las toallas, la radio portátil, el libro que estoy leyendo, dos camisetas, el monedero . . . (CRG, Sp.) ‘I put the suntan lotion, the towels, the portable radio, the book I’m reading, two T-shirts, my purse . . . in a beach-bag’. Further examples: Cierre/Cierra los ojos Shut your eyes Diego metió la pata Diego put his foot in it Ignacio está mal de la rodilla Ignacio’s got a problem with his knee Se te ha colgado el ordenador (Lat. Am. la Your computer’s crashed computadora or el computador) Llegaba a pensar que Alicia había I was starting to think that Alicia had lost    perdido la razón (SP, Sp.)    her mind Introduje la mano izquierda en el bolsillo I inserted my left hand in the right pocket    derecho del pantalón (ABE, Pe.)    of my trousers [sic] Todas las chicas andan con la tripa al aire All the girls are all going round with their   midriff/stomachs showing Bébete el café/Arréglate el pelo Drink your coffee/Tidy your hair La rabia le puso las orejas coloradas y Rage made his ears red and his eyes damp    los ojos húmedos (AM. Mex.) Me pica la nariz or me pican las narices My nose is itching (1)  But if no word makes clear who the possessor is, a possessive adjective must be used: mis ojos son azules ‘my eyes are blue’ (but tengo los ojos azules because the verb shows who is the

100 Possessive adjectives andpronouns possessor), tus medias tienen carreras en las dos piernas ‘your stockings/tights are laddered in both legs’ (medias usually means ‘socks’ in Latin America), he corregido tu redacción (cf. te he corregido la ­redacción) ‘I’ve marked/graded your essay’. With clothes, use of the possessive may suggest that the thing is not being worn: he visto tunuevafalda en el dormitorio/en una tienda ‘I saw your new skirt in the bedroom/(on sale) in a shop/store’. (2)  When the thing possessed is emphasized, contrasted or particularized by context, or by an adjective or some other words, or whenever ambiguity must be avoided, the possessive adjective usually reappears: Usted póngase su camisa, no la mía You put on your shirt, not mine Vi sus ojos grandes, fatigados, sonrientes y I saw her eyes, big, tired, smiling and   como lacrimosos (FU, Sp.)    seemingly tearful Acerqué mi cabeza a la suya (CF, I moved my head closer to his    Mex., dialogue; contrast) X deja sus/tus manos suaves y perfumadas X leaves your hands soft and   (or le/te deja las manos . . .)   perfumed Toco tus labios . . . (popular song) I touch your lips . . . (3)  Use of the definite article downplays the thing possessed. Te toco los labios can sound accidental or matter-of-fact. A mother says dame la mano, que vamos a cruzar la calle ‘hold my hand, we’re going to cross the road’, but an old-fashioned lover might say dame tu mano y te haré feliz ‘give me your hand (in marriage) and I will make you happy’. In polite speech one therefore avoids the definite article when the thing possessed is a human being: ¡cuánto echo de menos a mis hijas! ‘I miss my daughters so much!’, siempre voy de vacaciones con mi mujer/mi novia (?con la mujer/la novia is humorous or ironic, cf. popular British ‘. . . with “the” wife’) ‘I always go on holiday/vacation with my wife/girlfriend’. (4)  In spoken Latin-American Spanish, especially Mexican, possessive adjectives are sometimes combined with indirect object pronouns: les pintamos su casa (street sign, Oaxaca, Mex.) ‘we’ll paint your house for you’; me duele mi cabeza (colloquial Mexican) ‘my head aches’, standard Spanish me duele la cabeza; ¿te quitas tu ropa? (EP, Mex., dialogue) ‘why don’t you take your clothes off?’, standard Spanish ¿te quitas la ropa? (5)  Unlike English, Spanish normally uses the singular when each person possesses one each of a thing: les sellaron el pasaporte ‘they stamped their passports’. See 2.2.4. (6)  One says me quité la camisa ‘I took my shirt off’, not quité la camisa (= ‘I removed the shirt’/‘I took the shirt away’), because one’s shirt does not come off by itself and effort is required. For this reason one says abrí los ojos ‘I opened my eyes’ (they opened naturally) whereas me abrí los ojos suggests that your eyelids were stuck together and had to be separated.

9.4  Uses of mío, tuyo, suyo, etc. 9.4.1  Basic uses of mío, tuyo, suyo, etc. The pronominal forms mío, tuyo, suyo, etc. are used: (a)  to translate English ‘. . . of mine/yours/his/ours’, etc.: un amigo mío un conocido tuyo

a friend of mine an acquaintance of yours

9.4  Uses of mío, tuyo, suyo, etc.


un poema muy malo mío (Granma, Cu., a very bad poem of mine   Sp. un poema mío muy malo) Marco ha vuelto a hacer una de las suyas Marco’s up to his usual tricks again    (lit. ‘a thing of his’) una actitud muy suya a very typical attitude of his/hers/yours/theirs (b)  as a literary, rather stilted alternative for a possessive adjective: en mi novela/en la novela mía nuestro pan/el pan nuestro de cada día

in my novel/in this novel of mine our daily bread

(c)  in Spain, in these rather formal phrases (see note 1): Bueno, hijo mío/hija mía, me voy Te aconsejo que no, amigo mío

Well, dear, I’m off I advise you not to, my friend

(d)  to translate the pronouns ‘mine’, ‘yours’ (see the following section for the use of the definite article in this construction): —¿De quién es este bloc? —Mío Este garabato es tuyo Este/éste es el vuestro, ¿verdad?

‘Whose notepad is this?’ ‘Mine’ This scrawl is yours This one is yours, isn’t it?

(e)  In a number of set phrases: de nuestra parte/de parte a costa mía at my cost muy señor mío (S. Cone de   nuestra for our part en torno suyo around him/   mi consideración) Dear a pesar mío/suyo despite   her/them/you   Sir (in letters)   me/despite him/her/you a propuesta suya at his/   her/your/their suggestion (1)  Latin-American Spanish typically says mi hijo, mi hija, mi amigo: no, mi amiga, me quedaré en casa. Iré otro día (AA, Cu., dialogue) ‘no my friend. I’ll stay at home. I’ll go another day’. This gives rise to forms like mijita (= mi hijita), etc. In Spain a number of loving expressions also optionally use the normal order, e.g. mi vida/vida mía, mi cielo/cielo mío, mi amor/amor mío, mi cielín, etc. ­‘darling’/US ‘honey’, etc.

9.4.2  Definite article with mío, tuyo, suyo, etc. The definite article is obligatory in the following cases: (a)  after prepositions. Compare —¿De quién es el coche? —Mío ‘Whose car is it?’ ‘Mine’ and —¿En qué coche vamos? —En el mío ‘“Which car are we going in?”’ “In mine”’. Further examples: A tu primo sí lo/le conozco, pero no al suyo I know your cousin, but not his/hers Si algo malo te ocurre, yo me haría cargo de If something bad happens to you I’d look   los tuyos (MS, Mex., dialogue)    after your loved ones (b) when the pronoun is the subject or object of a verb (even though the verb may not be present): Toma el mío Tu padre te deja salir, el mío no Qué vida tan triste la suya Los dos DVDs son buenos, pero el nuestro   es mejor

Take mine Your father lets you go out, mine doesn’t What a sad life his/hers/yours/theirs is The two DVDs are good but ours is better

102 Possessive adjectives andpronouns (c) after ser ‘to be’, omission of the article emphasizes actual possession: la casa de Jeremiah Saint-Amour, que desde Jeremiah Saint-Amour’s house, which   ahora era suya (GGM, Col.)    from now on was hers Pero estas cualidades eran mucho más suyas But these qualities were much more   que mías (ABE, Pe.)    hers than mine

9.4.3  The neuter article with lo mío, lo suyo, etc. The neuter form of the possessive has various meanings: Mi marido sabe lo nuestro My husband knows about us Ahora estás en lo tuyo Now you’re in your element Lo vuestro/suyo fue alucinante What happened to you was mind-boggling No tuve hijos y nada me impedía dedicarme I didn’t have any children and nothing was   a lo mío (ES, Mex., dialogue)    stopping me from doing my own thing Lo mío es confundir (M. de Unamuno, Sp.) Confusing people is what I do

9.5 Clarification or replacement of possessive by de+pronoun In some cases de + a pronoun may be used instead of a possessive, and when su/sus refer to usted or ustedes, de usted or de ustedes are often added. This happens: (a) When it is necessary to clarify the meaning of su/suyo, which can mean ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘its’, ‘your’ (usted), ‘their’, ‘your’ (ustedes). Context nearly always makes ownership clear, but it can be emphasized or clarified by using de él/ella, de usted, de ellos/ellas, de ustedes: los paraguas de ustedes ‘your (plural) umbrellas’, la camisa de él ‘his shirt’. The possibility of ambiguity is illustrated by the question ‘is this handkerchief yours or hers?’, where one would probably say ¿este pañuelo es de usted o de ella? ¿Este pañuelo es suyo? ‘is this handkerchief yours?’ is clear if one is talking directly to a person. (b) When de means ‘from’ and not ‘of’, as in hace tiempo que no tengo noticias de vosotros (or noticias vuestras) ‘it’s been some time since I’ve had news from you’. (1)  In Spain, su is assumed out of context to be third-person, so that de usted/ustedes may be needed to show that the meaning is ‘your’. (For Latin-American usage, see 9.6.)

9.6  Possessives: Latin-American usage Latin-American usage differs from European Spanish in a number of ways: (a) Where vos is used instead of tú (especially Argentina and much of Central America), tu/tuyo are the possessive forms: vos tenés tu birome (Arg.) ‘you’ve got your ballpoint pen’, in Spain tú tienes tu bolígrafo. (b) Since vosotros is not used in everyday Latin-American Spanish (see 12.3.1 for details), su/sus is the only second-person plural possessive in all styles. (c)  In Latin America su/suyo is assumed, out of context, to mean de usted/de ustedes ‘of you’. Third-person possession may be represented in everyday speech by de él ‘his’/‘its’ (masc.), de ella ‘her’/‘its’ (fem.), de ellos ‘their’ (masc.), de ellas ‘their’ (fem.):

9.7  Possessives after prepositions and adverbs


¿Quieres que vayamos al cuarto de él a ver si Do you want to go to his room to see   está? (Costa Rican dialogue, quoted    if he’s there?    Kany, 69; Sp. a su cuarto/habitación) En la oficina de ella no hay la mitad de There isn’t half the work in her office    trabajo que en la mía (MP, Arg.,    that there is in mine    dialogue; Sp. en su oficina) (d)  De nosotros for nuestro is also common in Latin-American speech: la casa de nosotros está en la esquina (Colombian informant, standard Spanish nuestra casa) ‘our house is on the corner’, —¿A quién se lo entregó? —Al jefe de nosotros (VdeC, Cu.) ‘“Who did you hand it over to?” “To our boss”’, standard Spanish a nuestro jefe or al jefe. (e)  In popular Spanish in Mexico and the Andes there is a tendency to use su/sus in phrases of the type noun + de + noun, e.g. su libro de Juan ‘Juan’s book’, su casa de mi amigo ‘my friend’s house’, standard Spanish el libro de Juan, la casa de mi amigo.

9.7  Possessives after prepositions and adverbs A common construction in spoken Latin-American Spanish, also increasingly favoured by the younger generations in Spain, is the use of the possessive pronoun forms (mío, tuyo, etc.) after prepositions that usually require de + a pronoun, and after some adverbs: ?detrás mío = detrás de mí ‘behind me’, and even, in sub-standard speech, ?entró antes mío ‘(s)he went in before me’, for entró antes que yo. Examples: Adentro mío yo soy igual que todos los Inside (me) I’m the same as all the   reaccionarios (MP, Arg. dialogue;    reactionaries   Sp. dentro de mí or por dentro) Quiero estar cerca tuyo (ibid., Sp. cerca de ti) I want to be near you No lo consiguió por lo intimidado que estaba He was so intimidated in my presence    en mi delante (MVLl, Pe., dialogue;    that he didn’t manage it    rare in written Spanish. Sp. delante de mí) Pero un segundo autobús que iba por detrás But a second bus travelling    suyo lo embistió con gran violencia    behind collided violently with it   (El País, Sp., better detrás de él) and also (the bracketed forms are used in standard Spanish): ?encima mía (encima de mí) ?enfrente suyo (enfrente de él/ella/usted    ustedes/ellos/ellas) ?aparte suyo (aparte de él/ella, etc.) ?fuera suyo (fuera de él/ella, etc.)

above/over me opposite him/her/you/them apart from him/her, etc. apart from him/her, etc.

(1)  This construction is found in the best writers in Argentina, but it is considered colloquial in other Latin-American countries and incorrect in Mexico. It is spreading in Spain but older speakers may disapprove. However, en torno nuestro (literary) ‘around us’ is considered correct, as is alrededor mío for alrededor de mí ‘around me’. (2)  Both contra mí/ti and en contra mía/tuya, ‘against me/you’, etc. are correct, but there is a tendency to make the possessive precede in Latin America and this seems to be spreading in Spain: está en mi contra (Peanuts cartoon, Arg.) ‘(s)he/it’s against me’, el hecho de que el teléfono se hubiera puesto en mi contra . . . (SP, Sp.) ‘the fact that the phone had turned against me . . .’.

10 Miscellaneous adjectives and pronouns This chapter discusses a series of important words that may cause problems for English-speaking learners: ajeno 10.1 algo 10.2 alguien 10.3 alguno 10.4 ambos 10.5

cada 10.6 cierto 10.7 cualquier(a) 10.8 demasiado 10.9 medio 10.10

mismo 10.11 mucho and poco 10.12 otro 10.13 propio 10.14 solo 10.15

tanto 10.16 todo 10.17 varios 10.18

10.1 Ajeno: adjective, marked for number and gender A rather literary word meaning ‘someone else’s’: el dolor ajeno (= el dolor de otros) ‘other people’s sorrow’, en casa ajena (= en casa de otra persona) ‘in someone else’s house’: Te preocupas demasiado por lo ajeno Que a la gente no le dé envidia el éxito ajeno (Miss Universe, in Excélsior, Mex.)

You concern yourself too much with other people’s business People shouldn’t envy the success of others

(1) Ajeno often translates ‘a stranger to’, ‘remote from’: problemas ajenos a mi responsabilidad ‘problems outside my responsibility’, . . . una mujer adulta ajena, aparentemente, a todo (CRG, Sp.) ‘. . . an adult woman apparently oblivious to everything’, [El Papa] no será ajeno a los desafíos de México (Excélsior, Mex.) ‘The Pope will not be indifferent to the challenges facing Mexico’.

10.2 Algo: invariable pronoun or adverb Used as a pronoun, it usually means ‘something’ or ‘anything’ in questions and after poco and a few other words: Detrás se veía algo grande, negro A ver si se te ocurre algo Esa casa tiene algo de siniestro Aquella frase era el preámbulo de algo muy grave (G GM, Col.) ¿Ves algo? ¿Sabes algo que yo no sepa? (EM, Mex., dialogue) Serán pocos los que hayan traído algo

Behind one could see something big, black Try and think of something That house has something sinister about it That phrase was the prelude to something very serious Can you see anything? Do you know something that I don’t know? There probably won’t be many who have brought anything

(1) Important: used as an adverb it means ‘rather’, ‘somewhat’, although un poco, un tanto or más bien are as common in speech: Estamos algo/un poco/más bien inquietos ‘we’re rather/a bit worried’, . . . de hermosas piernas, aunque algo cargada de caderas (LO, Cu.) ’ . . . lovely legs, although she was rather heavy in the hips’, queda algo lejos ’it’s rather a long way away’.

10.4  Algún, alguno, algunos, alguna, algunas


(2)  The English question-opener ‘do you know something . . .?’ is ¿sabes una cosa? The phrase ¿sabes algo? means ‘do you know anything?’ (3)  Algo así, algo así como, are translations of ‘something like . . .’: pesa algo así como siete kilos ‘itweighs around seven kilos’, se llama Nicanora, o algo así ‘she’s called Nicanora, or something like that’. (4)  In negative sentences nada translates ‘anything’ as well as ‘nothing’: no sabe nada ‘(s)he doesn’t know anything’, yo no sé dónde está nada en esta casa ‘I don’t know where anything is in this house’. See 27.4. (5)  Algo is neuter in gender, so one says algo en lo que podían creer ‘something they could believe in’, hay algo en lo que estoy totalmente de acuerdo contigo (JH, Mex.) ‘there’s something I agree totally with you about’.

10.3  Alguien: invariable pronoun It means ‘someone’, ‘somebody’, as in vi a alguien ‘I saw someone’ (note personal a before alguien; see 26.4.1). It also translates ‘anyone’, ‘anybody’ in questions and certain other types of sentence. It is not marked for gender: Le pidió a Andrés que se quedara en casa He asked Andrés to stay at home in    por si alguien llamara (GGM, Col.)    case someone phoned ¿Conoces a alguien que pueda darme un Do you know anyone/someone who can    presupuesto para reparar el coche?    give me an estimate for fixing my car? Siempre viene alguien entre semana Someone always comes on weekdays (1) *Alguien de los estudiantes, *alguien de ellos are rejected by grammarians, including the Academy, (DPD 38) in favour of alguno de los estudiantes, alguno de (entre) ellos, but alguna de entre ellas ‘one of the girls/women’. Occasionally alguien de is necessary since, unlike alguno, it does not indicate gender: yo creo que alude a alguien de esta casa ‘I think (s)he’s alluding to someone in this house’, alguien de la familia vendrá a recogerlo ‘someone from the family will come to pick it/him/you up’. (2)  María Moliner notes that ?darle una cosa a alguien que él no desea is awkward since alguien is too vague to be specifically masculine: dar a alguien una cosa que no desea‘ ‘to give something to someone who doesn’t want it’ avoids the problem. (3)  ‘Give it to someone else’ is dáselo a algún otro/alguna otra/alguna otra persona. *Alguien otro is not Spanish. (4)  Uno is sometimes colloquially used for ‘someone’ when gender is an important part of the message (for other uses of uno as a pronoun see 32.7.1): se ha peleado con uno en la calle ‘(s)he’s had a fight with some man in the street’, se casó con una de Valencia ‘he married some girl from Valencia’.

10.4 Algún, alguno, algunos, alguna, algunas: adjective or pronoun marked for number and gender 10.4.1  General uses of alguno (a)  As an adjective: The usual translation is ‘some’, French quelque(s). It is shortened to algún before a singular masculine noun or noun phrase: algún día ‘some day’, ¡o si te gusta algún otro! (ABV, Sp., dialogue) ‘or if you like some other man!’, but alguna región ‘some region’.

106 Miscellaneous adjectives andpronouns In the singular, alguno often means a vague ‘one or another’, ‘one or more . . .’. (For the difference between unos and algunos, see 10.4.2): en algún momento de la historia de Perú at one time or another in the history of Peru Alguna vez la echaba de menos (SP, Sp.) From time to time he used to miss her Deben cuidar bien esos platos. Alguna You should look after those plates well.   vez, en el futuro, podrían donarlos    Some time in the future you could donate   a un museo (LO, Cu., dialogue)    them to a museum Mira a ver si queda alguna botella de Look and see whether there is a bottle   vino    of wine left (b)  Alguno as a pronoun (the short form algún is not used as a pronoun): Again, the meaning may be a vague ‘one or more . . .’ or ‘one or two’: Alguno lo sabrá One or other of them will know —¿Has recibido cartas de tu familia? ‘Have you had any letters from your   —Bueno, alguna, sí    family?’ ‘Well, one or two, yes’ Una noche la policía entró y nos palpó. One night the police came in and   Alguno tuvo que ir a la comisaría    frisked us. At least one had to go to    (JLB, Arg., dialogue; Sp. ‘to frisk = cachear)    the police station Alguno habrá en la oficina que te guste There must be some man at the office you like In the plural ‘some’ or ‘a few’ are the usual translations: Con algunos de tercero vas a tener que You’re going to have to do irregular   hacer ejercicios de verbos irregulares    verb exercises with some of the third year Algunos ya están deseando marcharse Some already want to go Mateo Alemán (a quien algunos llamaban (President) Mateo Alemán, whom some   “el Ratón Miguelito”) (JA, Mex.),    called ‘Mickey Mouse’ (1)  Important: in formal, mainly written styles alguno may follow a noun, in which case it is an emphatic equivalent of ninguno, ‘none’, ‘no. . . at all’: no cultivaba forma alguna de contacto con el pueblo (JMs, Sp.) ‘he cultivated absolutely no kind of contact with the common people’, ninguna autoridad militar quiere dar explicación alguna (La Prensa, Bol.) ‘no military authority wishes to give any explanation whatsoever’, no puede tolerar pregunta alguna (EP, Mex.) ‘she can’t stand any questions at all’. However, NGLE 48.4k notes that ninguno is becoming more usual in this construction i.e. ninguna forma/forma ninguna. (2) Important: alguna is nowadays usually pronounced and written algún immediately before feminine nouns beginning with a stressed a- or ha-. The Academy no longer disapproves of this (DPD 38, NGLE 19.5h): algún/alguna alma perdida ‘some lost soul’, algún/alguna arma defensiva ‘some defensive weapon’. (3)  When followed by que and a masculine noun phrase, either algún or alguno may be used (DPD 38): algún que otro libro or alguno que otro libro ‘some book or other’. Only alguna que otra is allowed with feminine nouns. (4) When the singular alguno/alguna is combined with a second-person pronoun, the verb is optionally either second- or third-person, the latter being more usual and recommended by the Academy (DPD 38): si alguno de vosotros lo sabéis/lo sabe ‘if any of you know(s) it’. In the plural, agreement is with the pronoun: algunas de vosotras lo sabéis ‘some of you women know’, algunas de nosotras generalmente caminamos despacito (La Jornada, Mex.) ‘some of us women generally walk slowly’. But note algunos de nosotros han muerto (JP, Mex.) ‘some of us have died’, which obviously excludes the speaker.

10.4  Algún, alguno, algunos, alguna, algunas


(5)  Important: the English ‘some’ (and ‘any’) have no equivalent in Spanish when they come before a noun that refers to only a part or quantity of something, as in ‘give me some water’ dame agua/un poco de agua, ‘you haven’t bought any pins’ no has comprado alfileres, ‘have you got any wholemeal bread?’ ¿tiene usted pan integral? In some cases, un poco or ninguno may be good translations of ‘some’: yo también quiero un poco ‘I want some (a little) too’, ¿chuletas de ternera? No tenemos ‘veal chops/cutlets? We haven’t got any’, no tenemos ninguna ‘we haven’t got a single one’; no queda apenas ninguna ‘there are hardly any left’. ‘Any’ in the sense of ‘it doesn’t matter which’ is cualquiera (see 10.8): comidas a cualquier hora ‘meals at any time’. (6) When alguno is the direct or indirect object of a verb and it comes before the verb for purposes of focus, agreement may be governed by the number of an accompanying noun or pronoun or it may be third-person: a alguno de vosotros os/lo/le quisiera ver yo en un lío como este/éste ‘I’d like to see one of you in a mess like this’.

10.4.2  Unos and algunos contrasted These two plural words are not always easily distinguished (unos has other uses discussed at3.4). (a)  The two words are interchangeable in the phrase algunos/unos . . . otros: Algunos/Unos vinieron, otros no Some came, others didn’t . . . las explicaciones teológicas que hacían . . . the theological (i.e. obscure)    plausible la venta de unos terrenos y la    explanations that made acceptable the    compra de otros (AM, Mex., or algunos    the sale of some plots of land and the   terrenos)    purchase of others En algunas semanas [la morera] estaría In a few weeks the mulberry tree would be   llena de frutas (SA, Arg., or unas)    full of fruit (b) Only algunos is possible in the phrase algunos de: salí a cenar con algunos de los alumnos ‘I went out to dinner with some of the students’. (c) Only unos/unas can be used to make non-generic nouns and adjectives: compare son payasos ‘they are clowns (by profession)’, son unos payasos ‘they are (acting like) clowns’. See 4.2.1c for details. (d) Only unos can be used in plural reciprocal construction: se admiran los unos a los otros ‘they admire one another’. (e) Important: algunos is used when no implication of ‘a few’ is intended: algunos mexicanos hablan tres idiomas ‘some Mexicans speak three languages’ (since unos here would mean ‘a certain small group of’). When ‘a few’ is intended, the two are interchangeable and unos is usually followed by cuantos: me dio unas (cuantas)/algunas monedas de un euro ‘(s)he gave me a couple of one-euro coins’, . . . o cuando arriesgábamos algunos dólares en el casino (ABE, Pe., or unos cuantos) ‘ . . . or when we gambled a few dollars in the casino’.

108 Miscellaneous adjectives andpronouns

10.5 Ambos: adjective or pronoun marked for number andgender ‘Both’, though it is rather literary and los/las dos is more usual in speech. en ambos/los dos casos in both cases . . . cuando ambos se vinieron a vivir . . . when both of them came from Acapulco   a la capital desde Acapulco (GZ, Mex.)    to live in the capital —¿Cuál de los dos es correcto? —Ambos/Los dos ‘Which of the two is correct?’ ‘Both’    (1) Important: the definite article is not used with ambos: ambas chicas ‘both/both (of) the girls’, never *ambas las chicas. ‘One of both’ is: uno/a de los/las dos. (2)  Note also the following: sus dos hijas/primos ‘both his/her daughters/cousins’, ‘his/her two daughters/cousins’. He hablado con tus dos hermanos ‘I spoke with both your brothers’, not *tus ambos hermanos, etc. Tanto el profesor como los alumnos lo oyeron ‘both the teacher and the students heard it’ – never **ambos el profesor y . . .’. which is a bad translation of the English ‘both the . . . and . . .’.

10.6  Cada: invariable adjective and pronoun ‘Each’, ‘every’. Cada always precedes the noun: Cada loco con su tema ‘Each to his/her own’ (lit. ‘every madman    with his obsession’) cada uno de los alumnos . . . each of the students . . . un libro por cada tres alumnos one book for every three students El fenómeno ocurre cada década The phenomenon occurs roughly every   aproximadamente (La Jornada, Mex.)   decade Cada día me preocupa más esto de la Every day I’m more worried by this   taquicardia (ABE, Pe.)    tachycardia business (increased heart rate) —¿Quiere de lana o de seda? —Uno de ‘Do you want wool or silk?’ ‘One of each.’   cada (colloquial; pronoun) (1)  Cada vez más/menos usually translate ‘more and more’ and ‘less and less’: es cada vez más complicado ‘it gets more and more complicated’, era cada vez menos generosa ‘she was less and less generous’, para entonces cada vez se alejaban más las posibilidades de que México tuviera nuevos presidentes militares (JA, Mex.) ‘by then the possibility that Mexico would have more military presidents was becoming ever more remote’. English speakers should avoid using *más y más, *menos y menos. (2)  In colloquial speech in Spain and Latin America cada is an equivalent of ‘all sorts of . . .’: dice cada tontería ‘the nonsense (s)he talks . . .’, hay cada ladrón por ahí ‘there are all sorts of thieves there . . .’, ¡me hace usted cada pregunta! (SP, Mex., dialogue), ‘the things you ask me!’. (3)  ‘Each one’, ‘each person’: que cada uno (or cada cual/cada quien) haga la lectura que le parezca conveniente ‘let each person read it as it suits him/her’. Cada quien is frequent in Mexican texts. (4)  ?Me baño cada día or ?voy cada mañana for . . . todos los días, . . . todas las mañanas are widespread, but are rejected by some speakers as Catalanisms, but the construction is increasingly accepted and is correct in certain contexts. See 10.17.

10.8  Cualquier, cualquiera, cualesquiera: adjective or p ­ ronoun, marked for number


(5)  Note salía cada poco con ella ‘he went out with her occasionally/now and then’, i.e. de vez en cuando; also cada poco me decía que me quería ‘(s)he kept telling me that (s)he loved me’. (6) The phrase cada que ‘every time that’ is heard in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Paraguay: tomamos café cada que viene al Puerto (from NGLE 19.9d) ‘we have coffee every time he comes to the port’; elsewhere . . . cada vez que viene. Cada que is not used in Spain.

10.7  Cierto: adjective, marked for number and gender ‘Certain’, i.e. ‘specific’. Used thus it precedes the noun: en ciertos casos in certain cases cierto alemán a certain German . . . o en ciertos periodos de la presidencia . . . or at certain periods during the   Fernández (La Jornada, Mex.)   Fernández presidency Y esto, claro, flotaba de cierta manera And this, of course, was to some extent    en el ambiente (ABE, Pe),   floating in the atmosphere (1) Determinado is a more formal synonym: en determinados trenes existe un servicio de camareros ‘on certain trains waiter service is provided’. (2)  Un cierto/una cierta for ‘a certain’ are sometimes condemned as borrowings from French or English but are common in all styles; the Academy does not now object. Un cierto is found before partitive nouns —yo era consciente de (una) cierta tendencia suya a exagerar ‘I was aware of a certain tendency of his/hers to exaggerate’ – and as a less common colloquial alternative to un tal: se casó con un cierto/un tal Dionisio de México ‘she married a certain Dionisio from Mexico’. (3)  Placed after a noun or after a verb like ser or parecer, cierto means ‘fixed’, ‘accurate’, ‘true’: hemos tenido noticias ciertas de otro enfrentamiento ‘we have received accurate reports of another clash’, ¿Está enfermo? ¿Es cierto o no? (MP, Arg., dialogue) ‘Is he ill/sick? Is it true or not?’, si eso es cierto es un pecado (GZ, Mex., dialogue) ‘if that’s true it’s a sin’.

10.8 Cualquier, cualquiera, cualesquiera: adjective or ­pronoun, marked for number As an adjective ‘any’; as a pronoun ‘anybody’/‘anyone’ (Fr. n’importe quel). (a)  As an adjective Before any noun or noun phrase, the a of cualquiera (but optionally of cualesquiera) is dropped: en cualquier momento ‘at any moment’, cualquier mujer ‘any woman’. Cualquier(a) normally precedes the noun: duerme a cualquier hora del día ‘(s)he sleeps at any hour of the day’, se puede pagar con cualquier moneda ‘one can pay in any currency’. The idea of random choice is strengthened if it follows the noun, cf. English ‘any at all’. When used thus of people the effect is often pejorative, as is the English ‘any old’: . . . no una muerte cualquiera, sino la . . . not any old death, but one’s own    muerte propia (MB, Ur.)   death Un martes cualquiera . . . él dijo de un modo One Tuesday (i.e. ‘one Tuesday out of the   que apareciera casual (GGM, Col.    blue’) he said, in a way intended to seem   Sp. pareciera casual)   casual

110 Miscellaneous adjectives andpronouns Vamos a pasear por una calle cualquiera Let’s just walk down any street Su esposa no es una mujer cualquiera His wife isn’t just any woman (i.e. she    is something special) (b)  As a pronoun (the final -a is always retained): Cualquiera de los tres temas era Any of the three topics was thorny territory   un terreno espinoso (MS, Mex.) Cualquiera que sea el resultado Whatever the result is Cualquiera diría que eres millonario Anybody would think you’re a millionaire . . . la necesidad en que se ven de . . . the need they find themselves in to let    desahogarse con cualquiera (ABE, Pe.)    off steam in front of anybody No cualquiera tiene un auto como el de Not everyone (lit. ‘not anyone’) has a car   nosotros (SV, Ch., dialogue. Sp.    like ours   un coche como el nuestro) Era un hombre como otro cualquiera (LP, Mex.) He was a man like any other Cualesquiera que sean los desafíos en el camino Whatever the challenges along the path   de la construcción del comunismo (FC, Cuba)    towards the building of Communism . . . (1)  The plural adjective cualesquiera is nowadays uncommon since the idea can be expressed by a singular noun: cualquier mujer que no simpatice con el feminismo . . . ‘any woman who doesn’t/any women who don’t sympathize with feminism . . .’. There is a tendency in spontaneous speech and in informal writing to use the singular cualquiera where the plural is needed. This applies to both the pronoun and the adjective: se les garantiza plaza escolar a sus hijos cualquiera que sean sus estudios (El País, Sp., better cualesquiera) ‘their children are guaranteed school places, whatever their studies’ (i.e. whatever they have studied). Careful speakers, and the Academy (NGLE 20.4e), reject this, and the plural is normally used in writing. (2)  One occasionally hears cualquiera used instead of cualquier before a feminine noun, especially in Latin America, but foreigners should probably avoid this: ?de cualquiera manera (CF, Mex., dialogue) ?y más malvados que cualquiera otra tribu (MVLl, Pe., dialogue) ‘and more wicked than any other tribe’. This use is seen in Ortega y Gasset, Valera and a few other pre-mid-twentiethcentury Spanish stylists. (3)  Cualquier cantidad is heard in most of Latin America, but not in Spain, with the meaning ‘a great quantity of’, e.g. cualquier cantidad de flores ‘a great quantity of flowers’, Spain . . . una gran cantidad de . . . (4)  Note the subjunctives in . . . cualquiera que sea la explicación que él dé ‘whatever explanation he gives’; see 39.15.2 and 20.5.4 for an explanation.

10.9 Demasiado: adjective and pronoun marked for number and gender, or invariable adverb As an adjective ‘too many’/‘too much’; as an adverb ‘too’/‘too well’. (a)  As an adjective it must agree in number and gender: Has comido demasiadas uvas You’ve eaten too many grapes Pero el calor era demasiado hasta but the heat was too much even   para una danza tan calma (MP, Arg.,    for such a slow dance   dialogue)

10.10  Medio adjective and adverb

Has traído demasiados pocos tornillos   (demasiado is treated as an adjective   before poco)


You’ve brought too few screws

Nowadays demasiado is always placed before the noun. (b)  As an adverb (invariable in form) Tú hablas demasiado A ese/ése me lo conozco demasiado . . . ahora puede que sea demasiado tarde   (La Jornada, Mex.) Esto es demasiado difícil

You talk too much I know him only too well . . . it may be too late now This is too difficult

(1)  The adverb and the adjective mean different things: demasiado (adv.) buenas intenciones = ‘intentions that are too good’, but demasiadas (adj.) buenas intenciones = ‘too many good intentions’ (from NGLE 20.5n). (2) In some Lat. Am. countries, e.g. Peru, the adverb demasiado may mean ‘a lot’ in popular speech, so la quiero demasiado means la quiero muchísimo ‘I’m really in love with her’ (NGLE 20.8b).

10.10  Medio adjective and adverb On both continents this word functions as an adverb (invariable in form) or as an adjective (inflected for number and gender), both meaning ‘half’: adverb: Están medio borrachos They’re half-drunk Yo tenía medio abandonados a los santos I’d more or less given up the Saints (i.e.    (PJG, Cu.)    ‘I was no longer a believer’) Déjame. Estoy medio dormido Leave me alone. I’m half asleep adjective media pinta/media luna Incautan media tonelada de mariguana   en Tijuana (Excélsior, Mex. Marihuana   elsewhere) el americano medio las clases medias

half a pint/half-moon Half a ton of marihuana seized in Tijuana the average American the middle classes

(1)  It is often used colloquially in Latin America to mean ‘rather’, ‘pretty’ (Sp. bastante, más bien) as in es medio linda (Sp. guapa) ‘she’s pretty good-looking’, son medio tontos ‘they’re pretty stupid’, yo también estoy medio enredado estos días (LO, Cu., dialogue) ‘I’m pretty tied up too these days’. (2)  In the Canary Islands and much of Latin America there is a strong popular tendency, sometimes seen in print in Latin America, to make the adverb agree in gender: ellas son medias locas ‘they (fem.) are half crazy’, for medio locas; llegó media desilusionada (popular Mexican, quoted Kany, 55) ‘she arrived pretty disillusioned’, la tenía media atragantada (MP, Arg., popular dialogue) ‘. . . she had it stuck half way down her throat’. The Academy advocates medio for the adverb in all contexts.

112 Miscellaneous adjectives andpronouns

10.11  Mismo (and Latin-American variants): adjective marked for gender and number (a)  ‘The same’ When it means ‘the same’, which is its usual meaning on both continents, it is always placed before the noun or noun phrase that it qualifies: Lleváis/Llevan la misma blusa You’re wearing the same blouse . . . con los mismos mozos, pero un día griegos, . . . with the same waiters, but (dressed    otro andaluces, otro franceses, aunque    as) Greeks one day, Andalusians    vinieran de donde vinieran (ABE, Pe.    another, French on yet another,   In Spain mozos = camareros, Mex. meseros)    regardless of where they came from Estos dos casos son el mismo These two cases are the same (i.e. identical) Estos dos son los mismos These two are the same (i.e. as before) —¿Es usted don Francisco? —El mismo ‘Are you Don Francisco?’ ‘I am indeed’ (b)  Placed either before or after a noun, mismo means ‘self-same’/‘very’/‘right’: Vivo en Madrid mismo/en el mismo Madrid I live in Madrid itself Aparca el helicóptero en su mismo jardín/ (S)he parks the helicopter right in his/her   en su jardín mismo   garden To avoid ambiguity, mismo must be placed after the noun if it means ‘very’, ‘self-same’: el mismo Papa ‘the Pope himself’ or ‘the same Pope’, el Papa mismo = only ‘the Pope himself’. See also propio, 10.14b. (c)  Placed after a pronoun it emphasizes the pronoun e.g. yo mismo ‘I myself’, ella misma ‘she herself’: —¿Quién construyó el chalet? ‘Who built the house?’ ‘I did myself’   — Yo mismo/misma   (el chalet = ‘detached house’ in Spain) No se llora por los demás. Se llora por One doesn’t weep for others. One weeps for   una misma (ES, Mex., dialogue)    oneself (woman speaking) (d)  Placed after an adverb or adverbial phrase, mismo is itself an adverb and is therefore invariable: por eso mismo ahora mismo/ya mismo aquí mismo Mañana mismo empiezo a escribir   (ABE, Pe. Mañana is an adverb here) Estoy al lado mismo del súper (?mismo al lado de is dialect)

for that very reason right now/right away right here I’ll start writing tomorrow without fail I’m right next to the supermarket

But if the adverbial phrase contains a noun not accompanied by the definite article mismo may or may not agree with it. Agreement seems always to be correct and is recommended: esta noche mismo/misma this very night Vino esta mañana mismo/misma (S)he/it came this very morning En España mismo/misma no se pudo In Spain itself it was impossible to prevent   evitar la llegada del bikini    the arrival of the bikini

10.12  Mucho and poco: adjectives, marked for number andgender, or invariable adverbs


When the definite article is used, mismo is an adjective and must agree in number and gender: lo descubrieron en la chimenea misma ‘they found it in the chimney itself’. (1)  Lo mismo may mean la misma cosa, or it may be adverbial: como me vuelvan a decir lo mismo/la misma cosa . . . ‘if they say the same thing to me again . . .’, lo mismo vendían sardinas que libros de mecánica (AM, Mex.) ‘they as readily sold sardines as books on mechanics’, no nos divertimos lo mismo que si hubieras estado tú ‘we didn’t have such a good time as we would have if you’d been there’. *Lo mismo como is sub-standard for lo mismo que ‘the same as’. For lo mismo as a familiar European Spanish word for ‘perhaps’ see 20.2.4. (2)  Note the following difference: esa casa es lo mismo que (igual que) aquella/aquélla ‘that house is the same as that other one’ (i.e. the same thing is true of it, not the same house), esa casa es la misma que compró Agustín ‘that house is the same one that Agustín bought’. (3)  Mismísimo is a colloquial emphatic form of mismo in sense (b): el mismísimo presidente lo/le felicitó ‘the President himself congratulated him’. (4)  Mexican and Central-American everyday speech often uses mero in contexts under (b): en la mera (misma) esquina ‘right on the corner’, lo hizo él mero (él mismo) ‘he did it himself’, ya mero (ahora mismo) ‘right now’. In various parts of Latin America, from Chile to Mexico, puro may be used: en la pura cabeza (en la misma cabeza) ‘right on the head’, etc. (from Kany, 57ff), a puro Villa (bus-driver in Tabasco, Mex.) ‘(I’m going) only to Villahermosa’ (Sp. solo/sólo a) . . .; había puras mujeres (colloquial Chilean) ‘there were only women there’ (Sp. no había más que mujeres). (5)  Mismamente (= igual) is rustic or jocular.

10.12  Mucho and poco: adjectives and pronouns marked for number andgender, or invariable adverbs ‘Much’ or ‘many’, and ‘little’ or ‘few’. Used as adjectives they agree in number and gender. Used as adverbs they are invariable. (a)  As adjectives and pronouns: Mis hijos no me hacen mucho caso My children don’t pay much attention to me En el patio hay muchos limoneros There are a lot of lemon trees on the patio Pon poca pimienta Don’t put much pepper on/in it Somos muchos/pocos There are a lot/not many of us su poca paciencia her/his scant patience —¿Cuánta harina has comprado? ‘How much flour have you bought?’   —Poca/Mucha    ‘Not much/A lot’ Lo poco gusta, lo mucho cansa Brevity is the soul of wit (lit. ‘little    pleases, much tires’) Muchas se quejan de las nuevas horas Many women are complaining about   de apertura (pronoun)    the new opening hours (b)  Adverbial uses: Estoy añorando mucho a mi patria I’m missing my home country a lot Poco antes de las siete llegó su hijo Andrés Shortly before seven his son Andrés   (GGM, Col.)   arrived

114 Miscellaneous adjectives andpronouns Sale poco últimamente (S)he hasn’t been out much lately La lechuga podría ser mucho más Lettuce could be a lot more damaging    dañina de lo que crees (Excélsior, Mex.)    (to your health) than you think Por poco que lo quieras However little you want it No sabes lo poco que me gusta ese hombre You don’t know how little I like that man (1)  Important: before más, menos, mayor and menor, when these are followed by a noun (present or implied), mucho or poco agree in number and gender – a fact that English speakers are prone to forget: tienen muchos más hijos que tú/tienen muchos más que tú ‘they have many more children than you’/‘they have many more than you’, no en balde han transcurrido 27 años, hay mucha más experiencia, mucha más madurez (FC, Cu.) ‘twenty-seven years have not passed in vain, there is much more experience, much more maturity’, Eduardo tiene mucha menos paciencia ‘Eduardo has much less patience’, a mucha mayor velocidad ‘at much greater speed’, This construction is apparently not obligatory in Latin America: cuando me jubile, me pasarán sin duda mucho menos cosas (MB, Ur., Sp. muchas menos cosas) ‘when I retire, no doubt a lot fewer things will happen to me’. Informants from Peru and Mexico found this acceptable, but it is rejected by Spaniards. Before adjectives and adverbs, mucho and poco are adverbs and invariable in form: los problemas eran mucho mayores ‘the problems were much greater’. (2) One should avoid mucho or mucha without a following noun in sentences like ?mucho vienedeVenezuela ‘A lot [of crude oil] comes from Venezuela’, correctly . . . gran parte viene de Venezuela. (3)  In the following sentences mucho and poco do not agree with the preceding noun, but refer to the general idea underlying the sentence: ¿trescientos mil dólares? Es mucho ‘300,000 dollars? That’s a lot’, ¿tres cajas de ciruelas? Es poco ‘three boxes of plums? That’s not much’. Compare mil cajas para cien días son pocas ‘1000 boxes for 100 days isn’t/aren’t a lot’, y será mucha la cerveza que consumirán, para provecho del dueño (MP, Arg., dialogue) ‘and great will be the quantities of beer that they’ll consume, to the owner’s profit’. (4)  Muy ‘very’ can be thought of as a shortened form of mucho, used before adjectives and adverbs. The full form therefore reappears when it is used alone: —¿Es laborioso? —Mucho. ‘“Is he hard-working?” “Very”’. (5)  Muy de is quite often used in expressions like esa calle es muy de farmacias ‘that street’s got a lot a pharmacies in it’, no soy muy de ir a misa ‘I’m not a great one for going to Mass’, uno solo vino muy de traje y corbata (MSQ, Arg.) ‘only one came, all dressed up in a suit and tie’. (6)  Poco (but not un poco) negates a following adverb or adjective: poco frecuente = ‘infrequent’. See 5.12. (7)  ‘Very much’ = muchísimo. Muy mucho is archaic or jocular. (8)  Un poco de is invariable, but phrases like ?una poca de sal ‘a bit of salt’ are heard in popular or humorous speech, especially in Latin America.

10.13 Otro: adjective/pronoun, marked for number andgender Adjectivally ‘other’/‘another’; pronominally ‘another one’/‘others’. Like the English ‘another’ otro is often ambiguous: voy a pedir otro café ‘I’m going to have another coffee’ may mean that you want more coffee (i.e. otro café más) or that you want your coffee replaced.

10.14  Propio: adjective, marked for number and gender


Otra persona no te creería Another person wouldn’t believe you Ponle otro sello (Lat. Am. otra estampilla) Put another (or ‘an extra’) stamp on it en circunstancias otras que aquellas en que . . . in circumstances other than those in    which . . . ¿Qué otro político habría dicho eso? What other politician would have said that? El que lo hizo fue otro The one who did it was someone else Otros 40 inmigrantes en el barco lograron Another 40 immigrants in the boat managed    nadar hasta la costa (La Jornada, Mex.)   to swim to the shore Se lanzaban la pelota unos a otros They were throwing the ball to one another (1) *Un otro for ‘another’ (Fr. un autre) is a constant mistake of English speakers: dame otro ‘give me another’, not *dame un otro. Un otro is occasionally found in colloquial speech in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America (NGLE 13.10p). Catalans sometimes say un otro because of the influence of un altre in their own language. (2)  The possessives mi, tu, su, nuestro, vuestro precede otro, as do alguno, ninguno; but other adjectives follow it, although mucho may appear in either position: tu otro pantalón ‘your other trousers’, en algún/ningún otro lugar ‘in some/no other place’, sé que estoy manipulada como otra mucha gente (interview, Sp., also mucha otra . . .) ‘I know I’m being manipulated like a lot of other people’, . . . cosa que sólo celebraron Carmen Serdán y otras cuatro maestras (AM, Mex., dialogue) ‘. . . something that only Carmen Serdán and four other women teachers greeted enthusiastically’; en otros pocos casos (cf. en pocos otros casos ‘in not many other cases’) ‘in a few other cases’; otros varios millones de campesinos (MVLl, Pe.) ‘several million other peasants’. The order number + otros/as is sometimes seen in Latin America, i.e. dos otros for otros dos. (3)  Los/las demás may be a synonym of los otros/las otras if the latter means ‘the rest’/‘the remainder’: todos los demás países europeos ‘all the other European countries’, . . . Talavante, un torero distinto a los demás (El Economista, Mex.) ‘Talavante, a bullfighter unlike the rest’. (4)  El resto de also means ‘the others’ in the sense of ‘the remainder’. The usual construction is with the definite article – . . . las leyes, que debemos acatar como el resto de los ciudadanos (Libro de estilo de El País, 2014) ‘the laws, which we should respect like the rest of the citizens’ – but the definite article after the de is often omitted nowadays: . . . el resto de instituciones que rigen la vida profesional de El País (ibid.) ‘the rest of the institutions that govern the professional life of El País’. (5)  The phrase alguno. . . que otro is noteworthy: en México beberuna copa con el desayuno podría generar caras de sorpresa y alguno que otro reclamo (Excélsior, Mex.) ‘in Mexico drinking a glassofsomething alcoholic with breakfast might create surprised looks and a protest or two’.For the choice between algún que otro and alguno que otro before masculine nouns, see 10.4.1note3. (6)  The archaic adverb otramente ‘otherwise’ is now virtually extinct and is replaced by de otra manera/de otro modo.

10.14  Propio: adjective, marked for number and gender (a)  Usually it means ‘own’, as in: mi propio taxi/tus propias convicciones my own taxi/your own convictions Cada quien se crea su propio infierno (EP, Mex.) Everyone creates their own Hell Si no lo veo con mis propios ojos no lo creo If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I    wouldn’t have believed it en defensa propia in self-defence

116 Miscellaneous adjectives andpronouns (b)  It can also mean ‘self-same’, ‘very’, etc. (the same as mismo at 10.11b.): Las tachaduras son del propio autor Nos dio audiencia el propio obispo

The crossings-out are by the author himself The bishop himself granted us an audience

Propio is not used after pronouns: lo hizo ella misma, not *ella propia. (c)  ‘Appropriate’, ‘right’, ‘peculiar’, ‘characteristic’: Ese olor es propio del butano That smell is characteristic of butane Ese lenguaje no es propio de un diplomático That language is not suitable for a diplomat Es propio de él llegar tres horas tarde It’s like him/typical of him to arrive    three hours late (1)  Lo propio can be an alternative for lo mismo ‘the same thing’: Miguel dijo lo mismo/lo propio ‘Miguel said the same’, sucedió lo mismo/lo propio en casa de Toni ‘the same thing happened in Toni’s house’.

10.15  Solo: adjective, marked for number and gender; sólo or solo: invariable adverb The adjective means ‘alone’, the adverb ‘only’ (i.e. solamente). The adverb was always marked with a written accent, but in 1959 the Academy decreed that the accent is needed only for clarity. In 2010, this ‘decree’ was downgraded to a ‘recommendation’. Ambiguity is possible only with the masculine singular adjective, e.g. un hombre solo/un hombre sólo ‘a man alone’/‘only one man’, solo en casa/sólo en casa ‘alone at home’/‘only at home’. Solamente is an unambiguous alternative for sólo. El País always prints sólo for the adverb. (a)  Adjectival uses: Yo me quedé solo I was left alone Octavia me dijo que tenía que regresar sola Octavia told me she had to go back     (ABE, Pe.)   alone En esta casa cada quien se sirve solo (AO, Mex.) In this house everyone helps themselves to   food dos cafés solos two black coffees (cf. dos cafés solo/sólo only two coffees) (b)  Adverbial examples (unless indicated otherwise, solamente could be used instead): Solo/sólo así se solucionarán estos Only in this way will these problems   problemas   be solved Millones de personas disfrutan de la luz Millions of people enjoy electric light   eléctrica con solo/sólo accionar un    simply at the press of a switch   simple conmutador Tan solo/sólo se me ocurrió en ese instante It only occurred to me at that moment   lo que podría haber pedido Graciela    what Graciela might have asked for    (MP, Arg., dialogue. Not *tan solamente) (1)  A negative + más. . . que means ‘only’ (cf. French ne. . . que . . .): no hizo más que reírse ‘all he did was laugh’, no piensa más que en sí misma ’she only thinks of herself’. It must not be confused with más de, used with numbers to mean ‘more than’. See 6.5.

10.16  Tanto: adjective, marked for number and gender; orinvariable adverb


(2)  A solas strictly means ‘alone’ (i.e. with no one else present), and is occasionally required for the sake of clarity to avoid confusion between sólo and solo, as in necesito estar a solas/solo contigo ‘Iwant to be alone with you’ (solo might be heard as sólo ‘only with you’), or lo solucionó a solas ‘(s)he solved it alone (no one else present)’ and lo solucionó solo ‘he solved it alone’ (without help). Cf. also pero nunca había fumado a solas (GGM, Col.) ‘but she had never smoked on her own’, la primera noche en que quedó a solas con él (EP, Mex.) ‘the first night she’s found herself alone with him’. A solas is not normally used with inanimate things. Estuve a solas con mis pensamientos ‘I was alone with my thoughts’ is an elegant, rather poetic alternative to solo. (3)  ‘Not only . . . but also’ is no solo/sólo . . . sino. See 37.1a. (4)  ‘The only . . .’, ‘the only one . . .’, ‘his only’, etc. Único is required if no noun follows: él es el único que sabe conducir ‘he’s the only one who can drive’, es lo único concreto que tenemos (LO, Cu.) ‘it’s the only real thing we have’, lo único es que no sé nadar ‘the only thing is I can’t swim’, es hijo único ‘he’s an only child’. Compare el único/solo ser por quien deseo vivir ‘the only person I want to live for’, son el único/solo sustento del gobierno ‘they’re the government’s only support’. (5)  In some Latin-American countries, e.g. Cuba, único may be used as an adverb meaning ‘only’, where other regions use únicamente, cf. único (for únicamente/solamente/sólo) en esta región ‘only in this region’.

10.16  Tanto: adjective and pronoun, marked for number and gender; orinvariable adverb For the use of tanto and tan in comparisons see 6.15.1. Tanto basically means ‘so much’, ‘so many’ (French tant de). (a)  As an adjective it must agree in number and gender: tanta nieve/tanto dinero/tantos problemas so much snow/so much money/so many   problems . . . uno de tantos consuelos del pobre . . . one of the many consolations of the poor   (MP, Arg., dialogue) It can also function as a noun or pronoun (invariable in form as tanto): No creí que se atreviera/atreviese a tanto Cobran un tanto por ciento de comisión

I didn’t think (s)he/you would be that daring They take a certain percentage as commission

(b)  As an adverb it is invariable in form: —Hay más de tres kilos—. ¡No tanto! ‘There are more than three kilos.’ ‘Not that much’ Corrió tanto que no podía hablar (S)he ran so much that (s)he couldn’t speak Tanto era así que . . . (see note 2 for tan era So much was it so that . . .   así . . .) tanto mejor/tanto peor para ellos all the better/so much the worse for them —Es nada menos que de cincuenta ‘It’s 50 pesos no less.’ ‘So much the better   pesos— ¡Tanto mejor! (J JA, Mex. Dialogue)’ Es tanto un problema para la oposición It’s as much a problem for the opposition    como para el gobierno    as for the government

118 Miscellaneous adjectives andpronouns (1)  Un tanto (invariable) can mean un poco: Manolo es un tanto raro ‘Manolo is a bit strange’, los reportes muestran resultados positivos aunque un tanto limitados (Excélsior, Mex. Sp. los informes for reportes) ‘the reports reveal positive albeit rather limited results’. The NGLE 20.7j notes that the variant un tanto cuanto . . . is current in Mexico. (2)  Before adjectives or adverbs, tan is required: usted ha sido tan acogedor ‘you’ve been so welcoming’, se levanta tan de mañana que nadie lo/le ve salir ‘he gets up so early in the morning that no one sees him leave’, tan a propósito ‘so much on purpose’/‘so relevantly’, te lo enviaré tan pronto como pueda ‘I’ll send it to you as soon as I can’. One can say tan poco – me decepcionó que viniese tan poca gente ‘I was disappointed that so few people came’ – but not *tan mucho/a/os/as: me alegré de que viniera tanta gente ‘I was glad so many people came’. One must distinguish between phrases like tan (adverb) buena voluntad ‘such good will/kindness’ and tanta buena voluntad ‘so much good will/kindness’. Before mejor, peor, mayor and menor the full form is used: tanto mejor/peor para usted ‘so much the better/worse for you’, el peligro era tanto mayor debido a la radiactividad ‘the danger was all the greater due to radioactivity’. (3)  Tan before verbs instead of tanto is found on both continents, although tanto is more common in Spain: tan es así = tanto es así ‘it was so true’, tan no la conocen que la dejan morir de hambre (EP, Mex., Sp. tanto . . ., tan poco la conocen) ‘they know so little about her that they let her starve to death’. (4)  Tanto plus a singular noun is colloquial and often sarcastic for ‘lots of’, ‘so many’: hay tanto ricacho por aquí ‘there are loads of stinking-rich people round here’. (5)  Tanto . . . que for ‘as much as’ is not Spanish: no viaja tanto como tú ‘(s)he doesn’t travel as much as you’. Tanto . . . que can only mean ‘so much . . . that’. See 6.15.1. (6) Qué tanto and qué tan are considered correct in Latin America outside the Southern Cone for ‘how much?’, ‘to what extent?’: ¿qué tan posible es que llegue a ser presidente? (Excélsior, Mex.) ‘how possible is it that he’ll get to be President?’, qué tanto te gusta? ‘how (much) do you like it?’. In Spain one might say ¿cuál es la posibilidad de que llegue a ser presidente? or ¿qué posibilidad tiene de llegar a ser . . .?, ¿cuánto te gusta?

10.17  Todo: adjective/pronoun, marked for number andgender ‘All’, ‘every’, ‘the whole of’, ‘any’. (a)  When not followed by a definite or indefinite article it usually means ‘every’ or ‘any’: todo producto alimenticio que contenga any food product containing artificial   colorantes artificiales . . .    colouring . . . todo español sabe que . . . every Spaniard knows that . . . en todo caso in any case In all these cases cualquier could be used instead of todo. (b)  With the definite article, possessives or demonstratives, or before proper names, its usual meaning is ‘the whole of’/‘all’:

10.17  Todo: adjective/pronoun, marked for number and gender


toda la noche/durante todo aquel año all night/during all that year todos los cinco all five of them Varadero. Es una playa increíble. Todos los Varadero. It’s an incredible beach. All    extranjeros nos envidian (LO, Cu., dialogue)    the foreigners envy us Incluso Ricardo, con toda su paciencia, se Even Ricardo, with all his patience,    salió del seminario    walked out of the seminar Todo Barcelona habla de ello (see 1.3.9 All Barcelona’s talking about it    note 1 for the gender of todo here) The order noun + todo/a/os/as, as in los comensales todos . . . for todos los comensales ‘all the dinner guests’ or la casa toda . . . for toda la casa ‘the whole house’ is literary in style (c)  Followed by the definite article and plural periods of time it means ‘every’: El veterinario viene todos los meses todos los viernes/años

The vet comes every month every Friday/year

(d) Pronominally, the singular means ‘everything’, the plural ‘everyone’/‘everybody’/‘all of them’: se enfada por todo ‘(s)he gets cross about everything’, es todo propaganda ‘it’s all propaganda: —¿Dónde están las fresas? —Me las he ‘Where are the strawberries?’ ‘I’ve   comido todas    eaten them all’ Pago por todos I’m paying for everyone (e)  Agreement of todo should be noted in the following cases: When an adjectival phrase follows todo, the latter agrees with the subject: la verja está toda oxidada‘the railings are all rusty’, estaba toda cubierta de harina ‘she was completely covered in flour’. But when a noun follows there is some uncertainty: su cara era toda pecas ‘his/her face was all freckles’, el cielo era todo nubes ‘the sky was all clouds’, esa niña es toda ojos (from Moliner, II, 1930), ‘that girl’s all eyes’; but su madre es todo (or toda) corazón ‘his/her mother is all heart’ (GDLE 16.6.5). Women usually say soy toda oídos ‘I’m all ears’ but one hears todo . . .; also es toda/todo sonrisas esta mañana ‘she’s all smiles this morning’. Cf. also estas chuletas son todo hueso ‘these chops/cutlets are all bone’. In such cases the Academy admits both constructions. (f)  Relative clauses involving todo The following sentences illustrate some translation problems: todos los que dicen eso all who say that todo el que diga eso/todo aquel que diga eso anyone who says that   (the latter is literary) Son todo cuentos It’s all stories/make-believe Cuanto/Todo cuanto escribe es bueno (literary) Everything (s)he writes is good   or todo lo que escribe es bueno este poeta, cuyas palabras todas quedarán this poet, whose every word will remain    grabadas en nuestro corazón    engraved on our hearts el césped, por toda cuya superficie crecían the lawn, over all of whose surface   malas hierbas    weeds were growing esta ciudad, de la que conozco todas las iglesias this city, all of whose churches I know estas novelas, todas las cuales he leído these novels, all of which I have read

120 Miscellaneous adjectives andpronouns estos niños, los padres de todos los cuales yo these children, all of whose parents I know   conozco estas páginas, escritas todas ellas en japonés these pages, all of which are written     in Japanese el palacio, del que no hay habitación que yo the palace, all of whose rooms I have    no haya visitado   visited (1) Important: one says todos los profesores estamos contentos or los profesores estamos todos contentos ‘all of us teachers are pleased’/‘we teachers are all pleased’, and todos (nosotros) estamos contentos ‘we’re all pleased’, but not *todos nosotros los profesores estamos contentos. Note also todas las tres chicas ‘all three girls’, not *todas tres chicas. (2)  Cada is used if the actions are new ones rather than repetitions, or when the period of time is preceded by a number: cada día sale con una chica nueva ‘every day he goes out with a new girl’, cada diez minutos sale con alguna nueva burrada ‘every ten minutes (s)he comes out with some new nonsense’, tres gotas cada cuatro horas ‘three drops every four hours’. (3)  Moliner, II, 1330, notes that al . . . is more elegant than todos los . . . to indicate rate or quantity per period of time in sentences like: se fuma cuatro paquetes al día ‘(s)he smokes four packets/US packs a day’, lee un par de novelas a la semana ‘(s)he reads a couple of novels a week’, etc. (4)  Cuanto may be used to translate ‘absolutely every’: no es cosa de obligar a leer cuanto libro se ha escrito (ES, Arg., interview) ‘it’s not a question of obliging people to read every book that was ever written’. Cuanto or todo cuanto may also mean ‘absolutely everything’: heredó de él una tremenda bronca a (todo) cuanto sonara a autoridad (LS, Ch., in Spain bronca means ‘row’/‘argument’ and rabia would be used here) ‘he inherited from him a tremendous rage against everything that sounded like authority’, . . . quejándose de cuanto hay . . . (Excélsior, Mex.) ‘complaining about everything that exists’. (5)  After a neuter todo, Spanish usually makes the verb ser (and one or two others) agree with a following plural noun: con nuestro nuevo plan de ahorros, todo son ventajas ‘with our new savings plan it’s all advantages’. See 2.3.3. (6)  Todo occasionally follows the noun in flowery styles: el cielo todo estaba sembrado de estrellas ‘the whole sky was strewn with stars’, el mundo todo le parecía un jardín encantado ‘the whole world seemed to him an enchanted garden’. (7)  Todo el mundo (singular agreement) is a set phrase meaning ‘everybody’: todo el mundo los conoce ‘everyone knows them’. (8)  Todo followed by the indefinite article often translates ‘a whole . . .’: se comió toda una tarta de melocotones ‘(s)he ate a whole peach tart’, hubo toda una serie de malentendidos ‘there was a whole series of misunderstandings’.

10.18  Varios: adjective and pronoun, marked for number and gender (a)  ‘Several’, in which case it normally – but not always – precedes the noun: en varias partes del país ‘in several parts of the country’, mis motivos son varios ‘my motives are various’, los aspectos varios de la cuestión (literary: from Moliner, II, 1442) ‘the several (different) aspects of the question’.

10.18  Varios: adjective, marked for number and gender


(b)  ‘Various’, ‘varied’, in which case it can also follow or precede the noun. When used with hay or ser it precedes the noun: flores de varios colores/de colores varios     (the second option is more literary) La fauna de esta zona es muy varia/variada tapas varias

flowers of various colours The fauna of this zone is very varied selection of tapas (snacks)

(c)  Translating ‘various’: en diversas ocasiones ‘on various occasions’, en diferentes puntos de los Andes ‘in various places in the Andes’.

11 Numerals The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • • •

Numbers 1 to a billion (Section 11.1) Gender of numbers (Section 11.2) Agreement of uno and cientos (Section 11.3) Millions and billions (Section 11.4) Un or uno? (Section 11.5) Cien or ciento? (Section 11.6) Percentages (Section 11.7)

• ‘Score’, ‘dozen’, etc. (Section 11.8) • Fractions (Section 11.10) • Ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.) (Section 11.12) • Rules for writing numbers (Section 11.16) • Phone numbers (11.17)

Spanish numerals are simple and regular, although this makes the three unexpected forms quinientos 500 (not *cinco cientos), setecientos 700 (not *sietecientos) and novecientos 900 (not *nuevecientos) easy to forget. Remember also that 16–29 are rather arbitrarily written as one word (dieciséis, veintidós, etc.) whereas other tens plus units, i.e. 31– 99, are joined by y: treinta y uno, ochenta y seis, etc.

11.1 Cardinal numbers: forms Spanish cardinal numerals (the numbers used for counting) do not change their form, except for uno ‘one’ and -cientos ‘hundreds’, which agree in gender with the thing counted: 0 cero 1 uno/una 2 dos 3 tres 4 cuatro 5 cinco 6 seis 7 siete 8 ocho 9 nueve 10 diez 11 once

12 doce 13 trece 14 catorce 15 quince 16 dieciséis 17 diecisiete 18 dieciocho 19 diecinueve 20 veinte 21 veintiuno/a/ veintiún 22 veintidós

185 ciento ochenta y cinco 200 doscientos/doscientas 205 doscientos cinco/ doscientas cinco 300 trescientos/trescientas 357 trescientos/as cincuenta y siete 500.014 quinientos/as mil catorce 1.000.000 un millón

23 veintitrés 24 veinticuatro 25 veinticinco 26 veintiséis 27 veintisiete 28 veintiocho 29 veintinueve 30 treinta 31 treinta y uno/ una/un 32 treinta y dos 40 cuarenta

400 cuatrocientos/ cuatrocientas 500 quinientos/quinientas 600 seiscientos/seiscientas 700 setecientos/setecientas 800 ochocientos/ochocientas 900 novecientos/novecientas 1000 mil

41 cuarenta y uno/una/un 50 cincuenta 60 sesenta 70 setenta 80 ochenta 90 noventa 100 cien/ciento 101 ciento uno/una/un 102 ciento dos

1001 see note 5 1006 mil seis 1107 mil ciento siete 1998 mil novecientos/as noventa y ocho 2022 dos mil veintidós 5000 cinco mil 11.000 once mil

936.357 novecientos/as treinta y seis mil trescientos/as cincuenta y siete 100.000.000 cien millones

11.1  Cardinal numbers: forms


$1.000.000 un millón de dólares (for the use of de see 11.4a) 7.678.456 libras: siete millones seiscientas setenta y ocho mil cuatrocientas cincuenta y seis libras mil millones un billón (see 11.4b) (1)  Important: 16–29 are written as one word, as are 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800 and 900. Forms like diez y seis for dieciséis are old-fashioned. ‘Nuevecientos’ for novecientos is heard in rural speech in some countries. The numbers 31 to 99 are often written as one word in Chile cuarentaiocho for cuarenta y ocho, sesentaisiete for sesenta y siete; the daily newspaper El Mercurio of Santiago adopts this spelling. The Academy (NGLE 21.2k) prefers the forms with y. The Academy condemns omission of the a, as in ?cuarentiocho, ?sesentisiete, even though this is common in casual speech in some countries, less so in Spain. (2)  Important: uno is not used before ciento or mil: una pareja de ratas es capaz de procrear más de ciento veinte crías por año ‘a pair of rats is capable of producing more than 120 offspring per year’, más de mil colegios equipados con televisores en color ‘more than one thousand schools equipped with colour TV sets’. But un is used to distinguish between different meanings, as in trescientos/as un mil ochenta y cuatro 301.084 and trescientos/as mil ochenta y cuatro 300.084. However, the NGLE reports that un mil . . . is common in the media in Latin America, cf. pagamos por ello un mil trece millones de dólares (Excélsior, Mex. quoted NGLE 21.3e) ‘we paid 1013 million dollars for it’, Spain mil trece millones . . .. (3) Important: the Academy (DPD, 462) now recommends separating every three decimal places by a space: 8 567 876 = the English 8,567,876. Spaces are used in Cuba: los más de 1 200 000 niños y niñas que integran la Organización de Pionerosí (Juventud Rebelde, Cu.) ‘the more than 1,200,000 boys and girls belonging to the Pioneers Organization’. Years, street numbers, and zip codes should not contain spaces: 2015, Avenida Maragall 3230 Madrid. However, a full stop (US ‘period’) is used in Spain and most South-American countries to separate thousands: 19.000 dólares = $19,000. Typists sometimes write years with a point, e.g. 1.998, but the grammarians disapprove. The Academy states that a comma should be used to separate decimals: 3,45 (pronounced tres coma cuarenta y cinco, not ‘tres coma cuatro cinco’) = British and American ‘three point four five’. This system is in general use in Spain and south of Panama. To confuse matters more, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the CentralAmerican countries generally, but not Cuba, use the system of the English-speaking world, i.e. 1.25, pronounced uno punto veinticinco for decimals and commas to separate thousands: 5,000cinco mil. (4)  1001 is theoretically mil uno and this form is used when counting and no noun follows. Seco (1998), 446, notes that mil y uno comes from the famous book Las mil y una noches ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ and is correct only in the vague sense of ‘a lot’: tengo mil y una cosas que hacer ‘I’ve got a thousand and one things to do’, las mil y una aplicaciones domóticas permiten descansar al propietario (El País, Sp.) ‘the innumerable electronic household appliances allow the owner to rest’. However, mil y uno/a is usual before nouns: mil y un euros ‘1001 euros’, las mil y una sonrisas de Robin Williams (Excélsior, Mex.) ‘the 1001 smiles of Robin Williams’. Forms like mil un euros are found in formal writing. (5)  Certain forms ending in -ón are used, with a faint pejorative meaning, to refer to people of a specific age: un cuarentón ‘a forty-year-old man’, un cincuentón ‘a fifty-year-old’, una sesentona ‘a sixty-year-old woman’. Forms ending in -añero are merely descriptive, e.g. un quinceañero ‘a fifteen-year-old boy’, una veinteañera (CMG, Sp.) ‘a twenty-year-old woman’.

124 Numerals (6)  El País’s Libro de estilo 2014, 2.1.9, says that el/la joven or el/la adolescente is a person aged between 13 and 18, so they are close equivalents of our ‘teenager’. (7)  Roman numerals are written with centuries: el siglo XXI = el siglo veintiuno, although ordinary numerals are increasingly seen. (8)  Traditionally the word ‘or’ – o – was written with an accent between digits to avoid confusion with zero. The Academy now rules that one should write 5 o 6, not 5 ó 6. See 37.2. (9)  English-speakers should not assume that signs like £, $ or € are clear to Spanish-speakers everywhere. Write 50 dólares, 179 libras, mil euros not $50, £179. €1000. (10) For otros dos . . . versus dos otros . . . see 10.13 note 2.

11.2  Gender of numbers Numbers are masculine, unlike the letters of the alphabet, which are feminine: Yo puse un siete, no un nueve Los dos ochos del anuncio giraban    velozmente en sentido contrario (CMG, Sp.) un cinco de bastos Tú eres el cuatro

I put a 7, not a 9 The two 8s on the advertisement were   spinning rapidly in opposite directions a five of clubs You’re number four

This is also true of cientos and miles when used as nouns (i.e. when followed by de): los miles de víctimas de los tifones the thousands of victims of the typhoons los escasos cientos de personas que the few hundred persons present at the    asistían a la manifestación   demonstration (1)  In informal styles miles de is very often made feminine before feminine nouns: las miles de aves (La Vanguardia, Sp.) ‘the thousands of birds’, las miles de víctimas (El Economista, Mex.) ‘the ­thousands of victims’. Seco (1998), 297, says las miles is ‘abnormal’ and the Academy disapproves of it, but the construction is frequently heard and seen.

11.3  Agreement of uno and cientos Important: uno and cientos (but not ciento/cien) agree in gender with the noun counted. Foreign students constantly forget to make cientos agree: un peso/una libra veintiuna casas quinientos dólares setecientas mujeres aprobaron trescientos un alumnos en la página quinientas catorce Yo duermo en la cuatrocientas   (habitación omitted)

one peso/one pound twenty-one houses five hundred dollars seven hundred women 301 students passed on page 514 I’m sleeping in (room) 400

(1)  Combinations of tens plus one and thousands (21,000, 31,000, 41,000, etc.) are problematic. Logically one should say veintiuna mil mujeres ‘21,000 women’ since the nouns are feminine and mil is an adjective: se han visto afectadas treinta y una mil personas ‘thirty-one thousand people have been affected’ (TVE broadcast). However, forms like veintiún mil pesetas, treinta y un mil mujeres

11.5  Un or uno?


‘31,000 women’, etc., are in common use, and many speakers do not accept veintiuna/treinta y una mil. Seco (1998), 445, notes that the masculine is in fact the traditional form and the Academy approves of both. When thousands are multiplied by hundreds the expected gender agreement must be used: doscientas mil mujeres ‘200,000 women’, never *doscientos mil mujeres.

11.4  Millions, billions and trillions (a)  Important: millón, billón and the little used trillón are masculine nouns and are connected by de to the following noun or noun phrase: visitarían para fin de año más de 13 millones de turistas el DF (Excélsior, Mex.) ’13 million tourists will probably visit Mexico City by end of the year’ (DF= Distrito Federal, but see note 3). (b)  Important: the Hispanic billón and trillón do not have the values they have in the USA and in most other places in the English-speaking world: Spain and Latin America

USA, Britain, etc.

un millón = 1.000.000


mil millones = (see note 2) un billón =


un trillón = un millón de billones


one billion (a thousand million) one trillion (a million million) a million trillion

The left-hand column shows the values used throughout the Hispanic world, but it makes sense to enquire which system is being used when talking about national debts or stars, galaxies, atoms, etc. In Britain ‘billion’ and ‘trillion’ had their Hispanic values until the official adoption of the US system in 1974, and some people are still confused about their exact meaning. (1)  The phrase un millón/billón/trillón de is singular, so a following verb or noun should agree accordingly: el millón y medio restante fue invertido . . . ‘the remaining million and a half were/was invested . . .’. ‘A million and one’ is un millón y uno/una, and y is used whenever a single number-word­follows: un millón y cien, tres millones y mil, but un millón doscientos mil = ‘one million two hundred thousand’. (2)  The term un millardo has been proposed for the English-speaking world’s billion (a thousand million) but it seems not to have caught on outside Venezuela. (3)  Mexico City’s name was officially changed in January 2016 from Distrito Federal to la Ciudad de México, often abbreviated to CDMX.

11.5  Un or uno? Uno loses its final vowel before a masculine noun or noun phrase, as does una before nouns beginning with stressed a- or ha-. Veintiuno is shortened to veintiún in the same contexts: un tigre, dos tigres, tres tigres one tiger, two tigers, three tigers (a tongue   twister) veintiún mil hombres 21,000 men veintiún mil mujeres (see 11.3 note 1) 21,000 women un águila, veintiún armas, treinta y un one eagle, 21 weapons, 31 axes    hachas

126 Numerals In the following examples the final vowel is retained since no noun follows the number: no hay más que veintiuno ‘there are only twenty-one’, párrafo ciento uno ‘paragraph 101’, Inglaterra, país tradicional de los fantasmas, ve uno nuevo por sus calles ‘England, the traditional land of ghosts, is witnessing a new one in its streets’.

11.6  Cien or ciento? Ciento is shortened to cien before another numeral which it multiplies, or before a noun or noun phrase: cien mil bolívares 100,000 bolivares cien millones 100 million la iniciativa de eliminar cien de los the proposal to remove 100 of the 500   500 diputados (La Jornada, Mex.)    deputies but ciento once en la página ciento dieciocho

one hundred and eleven on page one hundred and eighteen

(1) The old rule was that ciento should be used when the number stands alone: —¿Cuántos son? —Ciento ‘“How many are there?” ‘“A hundred”’. This rule is obsolete everywhere, so the answer is now cien. Further examples: yo vivo en el cien ‘I live in number 100’, pues faltan cien o sobran cincuenta (AM, Mex., dialogue) ‘well, there are either a hundred missing or fifty too many’. However, ciento is still used in percentages: see next section.

11.7  Expression of percentages Por ciento is recommended by the Academy (NGLE 21.2m) and is usual in written language, though por cien is common in speech. Cien por cien is often used for ‘completely’, ‘absolutely’, although ciento por ciento is also found: el cuarenta y tres por ciento forty-three per cent tanto por ciento so much per cent El PCE sólo obtuvo el 8 y pico por ciento The Spanish Communist Party only    de los votos (El País, Sp.)   obtained just over 8% of the votes Se pronostica 60 por ciento de intervalos There is a 60% forecast of periods of    de chubascos en Chiapas y Oaxaca    showers in Chiapas and Oaxaca   (La Jornada, Mex.) . . . la seguridad, cien por cien, de que los . . . the hundred-per-cent guarantee that    vertidos son inocuos (El País, Sp.)    the waste matter is harmless Estoy ciento por ciento tranquilo por la I’m 100% reassured by the investigation   investigación (interview, La Jornada, Mex.) Promete compromiso y profesionalidad al He promises 100% commitment and    ciento por ciento (El País, Sp.)    professionalism (1)  For the use of el with percentages see 11.11.

11.8  ’Score’, ‘dozen’, etc. (collective numerals) There is a series of collective numerals, cf. our ‘score’, sometimes used to express approximate quantities:

11.10 Fractions

un par de veces a couple of times una decena about ten una docena a dozen (often approximate,    used less than in English) una veintena a score/about twenty


una cuarentena about forty/quarantine una cincuentena about fifty un centenar about a hundred un millar about a thousand

(1)  Important: like all collective nouns, collective numerals are often treated as singular: una veintena de casas se ordenaba formando una calle frente al río (LS, Ch.) ‘a score of houses were laid out to form a street in front of the river’, lo esperaba una treintena de hombres con rifles (ES, Mex.) ‘about thirty men with rifles were waiting for him’. See 2.3.1 for further remarks on collective nouns. (2)  Cuatro is much used colloquially in Spain and Mexico, and no doubt elsewhere, to mean ‘a couple’/‘a handful’: no hay más que cuatro gatos ‘there are only a couple of people around’ (lit. ‘. . . only four cats’), no son más que cuatro desgraciados los que ponen las pegatinas fascistas ‘it’s only a handful of wretches who put up fascist stickers’. (3)  Centenar and millar are used for expressing rate: mil dólares el centenar/millar ‘1000 dollars the hundred/the thousand’, or, more colloquially, . . . cada cien/por cada cien, cada mil. (4)  An informal way of expressing ‘slightly above’ is by using y pico, as in el piso veintipico (MVM, Sp.) ‘flat/apartment twenty-something’, treinta y pico ‘thirty and a bit’. Note also son las cinco y pico ‘it’s just after/gone five o’clock’.

11.9  Mathematical expressions Dos y (or dos más) tres son cinco Dos por tres son seis Ocho dividido por dos son cuatro   (or ocho entre dos . . .) Once menos nueve son dos Tres es la raíz cuadrada de nueve Nueve es el cuadrado de tres Forma un cuadrado de diez metros dos metros cuadrados tres metros cúbicos menos veinte

Two plus three equals five Two times three equals six Eight divided by two is four Eleven minus nine equals two Three is the square root of nine Nine is three squared It’s ten metres square two square metres three cubic metres minus twenty

The division sign is a colon, e.g. 3:6 = 0,5 (tres dividido por seis son cero coma cinco) ‘3/6 = 0.5’ (0.5 cero punto cinco in Mexico).

11.10 Fractions There are nouns to express some lower fractions, e.g. la/una mitad ‘the/a half’, el/un tercio ‘the/a third’, dos tercios ‘two-thirds’, el/un cuarto ‘the/a quarter’. From ‘fifth’ to ‘tenth’ the masculine ordinal numeral can be used: un quinto/sexto/séptimo/octavo/ noveno/décimo ‘a fifth/sixth/seventh/eighth/ninth/tenth’, but this is more typical of mathematical, technical or sporting language although it is heard also in educated speech: ganó por tres quintos de segundo ‘(s)he won by three-fifths of a second’. Everyday language uses the forms quinta parte, sexta parte, séptima parte, etc., although usage is fickle in a few cases and the parte may be dropped. Note tengo unas décimas de fiebre ‘I’ve got a

128 Numerals couple of tenths of a degree of fever’, unas décimas de segundo después ‘a few tenths of a second later’. Un décimo is a tenth share in a Spanish national lottery ticket. La tercera parte is usual in non-mathematical speech for el tercio. Examples: La mitad se salvó Half were saved un cuarto (de) kilo a quarter (of a) kilo Un tercio/La tercera parte de los A third of Spaniards think that . . .   españoles piensa(n) que . . . Alaska y Venezuela sólo nos aseguran Alaska and Venezuela only guarantee    las dos terceras partes de ese    us two-thirds of that supply   suministro (CF, Mex., dialogue) Complicated fractions like ‘four twenty-sevenths’ are usually nowadays expressed as decimals. If fractions must be used, the usual practice in Spain is to use the ordinary cardinal numbers: ‘1/20th’ = la veinte parte, ‘1/90th’ = la noventa parte, ‘1/53rd’ = la cincuenta y tres parte. Forms like la vigésima parte ‘1/20th’, la nonagésima parte ‘1/90th’, la quincuagésima tercera parte ‘1/53rd ’, are avoided in all but formal language. Masculine ordinal forms can be used for high fractions: un milésimo de litro ‘a thousandth of a litre/liter’. Ordinals with parte are also often used for hundredths, thousandths, millionths and billionths: la centésima/milésima/millonésima parte, tres doscentésimas ‘3/200ths’; the word parte is often dropped. A partir de la primera cienmilésima de After the first one hundred-thousandth of    segundo, el Universo empieza a cobrar    a second the Universe begins to take on    un aspecto conocido (Abc, Sp.)    a familiar appearance La tasa de desempleo mostró una The unemployment rate showed a marginal   baja marginal de una centésima   decline of 100th of a point   (Excélsior, Mex.) Bolt ganó por una centésima de segundo Bolt won by 100th of a second   (La Jornada, Mex.) (1)  The tinier fractions can alternatively be expressed – and generally are in mathematical language – by adding the suffix -avo to the cardinal number: la veinticincoava parte ‘1/25th’, tres ochenta y seisavas partes ’3/86ths’. Mathematical language may use the masculine noun form, e.g. tres ochenta y seisavos. If two a’s come together when -avo is added, one can optionally be dropped and usually is in non-mathematical language: treinta(a)vo ‘30th’. (2)  Medio/a/os/as is the adjectival form for ‘half’: una media docena/pinta ‘a half-dozen/half-pint’; la mitad is the noun ‘the half’. Cuarto may function as an adjective or noun: un cuarto kilo or un cuarto de kilo ‘1/4 kilo’, but always un cuarto de hora ‘a quarter of an hour’. (3)  The optional use of con should be noted in this example: cuesta ocho euros (con) cincuenta y siete ‘it costs eight euros and fifty-seven cents’.

11.11  Articles with numbers Certain common numerical expressions, especially percentages, appear with el or un. This is particularly true when the numerical value is preceded by a preposition, and after cumplir, al llegar a . . . meaning ‘to reach the age of’: Vivo en el cinco I live in number five Cuando George Burns cumplió los noventa When George Burns reached the age of    años . . . (La Jornada, Mex.)   ninety

11.12  Ordinal numbers


Lo dijo al llegar a los ochenta años (S)he said it when (s)he reached eighty . . . una reducción del 55% en el . . . a 55% drop in the number of    total de sentencias dictadas y un    sentences handed out and a 102%    incremento del 102% en la suma de    rise in the total number of shelved   causas archivadas (La Nación, Arg.)   prosecutions El 20 por ciento de los mexicanos dice(n) . . . 20% of Mexicans say . . . un treinta por ciento de la población activa 30% of the active population But Ha costado entre tres mil y cinco mil euros Tengo cuarenta y tres años

It cost between 3,000 and 5,000 euros I’m forty-three (years old)

(1)  The article is not used everywhere with percentages: el año pasado el gasto programable representó 18.2 por ciento del PIB (La Jornada, Mex. Mexico uses points and commas as in English) ‘last year the predicted cost represented 18.2% of GDP’, acaba de obtener 46,4% del total de votos (El Nacional, Ven.) ‘he has just obtained 46.4% of the total votes’.

11.12  Ordinal numbers 11.12.1  Ordinal numerals first to tenth These translate ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘third’, etc. They agree in number and gender: el quinto libro, la quinta casa ‘the fifth book’, ‘the fifth house’. The special ordinal forms first to tenth are in everyday use, but the cardinal numbers encroach even on them in phrases like el siglo nueve/noveno ‘the ninth century’, the ordinal being considered more correct: primer(o) first segundo second tercer(o) third cuarto fourth

quinto fifth octavo eighth sexto sixth noveno ninth séptimo/sétimo ‘seventh’ décimo tenth

el tercer hombre the third man Isabel II (segunda) Elizabeth II Fernando VII (séptimo) Ferdinand VII

la tercera vez the third time el siglo X (décimo/diez) the tenth century

(1)  Primero and tercero lose their final vowel before a masculine singular noun or noun phrase: el primer récord mundial ‘the first world record’, el tercer gran éxito ‘the third great success’. For more details see 5.5b. (2)  Séptimo is often pronounced sétimo and the Academy approves of this spelling. Many people, especially in Spain, find it unacceptable. (3)  Nono is used for noveno when referring to Popes: Pío nono ‘Pope Pius IX’. (4)  In the titles of royalty and Popes, the usual rule is that the ordinal number is used below eleven, the cardinal for numbers above ten: Enrique V (Enrique Quinto) ‘Henry the Fifth’, but Juan XXIII (Juan Veintitrés) ‘John 23rd’. (5)  See 32.9.1 for how to say and write dates.

130 Numerals

11.12.2  Ordinal numbers above tenth The use of the special ordinal forms listed below is declining and they are now mainly found only in official or formal language. The forms in bold type are used for fractions in technical language: tres doceavos ‘three-twelfths’. They are also often used as ordinal numbers in Latin America: la doceava parte de un sexenio (CF, Mex., dialogue) ‘one twelfth of six years’, and occasionally in Spain, although this is condemned by Seco (1998), 70, by the Libro de estilo of El País and by the Academy, NGLE 21.1d. 11th undécimo onceavo 12th duodécimo doceavo 13th decimotercero treceavo 14th decimocuarto catorceavo 15th decimoquinto quinceavo 16th decimosexto dieciseisavo 17th decimoséptimo diecisieteavo 18th decimoctavo dieciochavo 19th decimonoveno/decimonono   diecinueveavo 20th vigésimo veinteavo 21th vigésimo/a primero/a 25th vigésimo/a quinto/a etc.   veinticincoavo 30th trigésimo treinta(a)vo 36th trigésimo/a sexto/a treintiseisavo 40th cuadragésimo cuarenta(a)vo 50th quincuagésimo cincuenta(a)vo

60th sexagésimo sesenta(a)vo 70th septuagésimo setenta(a)vo 80th octogésimo ochenta(a)vo 90th nonagésimo noventa(a)vo 100th centésimo (in common use) centavo 200th ducentésimo 300th tricentésimo 400th cuadringentésimo 500th quingentésimo 600th sexcentésimo 700th septingentésimo 800th octingentésimo 900th noningentésimo 1000th milésimo (in common use) 2000th dosmilésimo 400th cuatrocientosmilésimo 1,000,000th millonésimo

(1)  Important: in informal styles, written and spoken, these ordinal forms over tenth are avoided and the ordinary cardinal numbers are used, e.g. conmemoran dieciocho aniversario de la muerte de Myrna Mack Chang (La Hora, Guat.) ‘18th anniversary of death of Myrna M. Chang commemorated’, la trescientas cincuenta reunión del comité ‘the 350th meeting of the committee’, faltaban quince días para mi cincuenta cumpleaños (CMG, Sp., dialogue) ‘there were fifteen days to go to my fiftieth birthday’, el tren de alta velocidad español está a punto de contabilizar su pasajero medio millón (El País, Sp., instead of quinientosmilésimo pasajero) ‘the Spanish High Speed Train (AVE) is about to get (lit. ‘enter in its accounts’) its 500,000th passenger’. Some newspapers, e.g. La Nación of Argentina and El Mercurio of Chile print the ordinal forms, e.g. el 65o [sexagésimo quinto] aniversario, others, e.g. La Jornada of Mexico and El País of Spain use the cardinal forms, i.e. el 65 [sesenta y cinco] aniversario. (2)  Decimoprimero, decimosegundo, for undécimo, duodécimo, were traditionally condemned, but the Academy now accepts them (NGLE 21.4i) although El País does not. (3)  Forms like décimo tercero, décimo cuarto are nowadays old-fashioned, although El País accepts them. Joined forms like vigesimoquinto/a, vigesimoséptimo/a, etc. are also common for ‘21st’ to ‘29th’. If the words are separated, both elements should agree in gender and number: la vigésima sexta respuesta or la vigesimosexta respuesta ‘the twenty-sixth reply’. (4) For the first of a month one can say either el uno de . . . or el primero de . . . the latter being more common in Latin America but often heard in Spain.

11.15  Dimensions and other numerical expressions


11.12.3  Position of ordinal numbers They usually precede: en el tercer capítulo/en el capítulo tercero in the third chapter la compleja relación entre ciencia y política the complex relationship between    bajo el Tercer Reich (El País, Sp.)   science and politics under the Third   Reich por la enésima vez for the umpteenth time los tres primeros párrafos/párrafos the first three paragraphs   primeros

11.13 Distribution cada cinco meses every five months Cada uno paga lo suyo Each pays his share Di mil pesos a cada uno de ellos I gave 1000 pesos to each of them Los actores entraban de dos en dos The actors came in two by two Subió las escaleras de tres en tres (S)he went up the stairs three steps at a time   (from NGLE 21.8c) Traían sendos ramilletes de flores (literary Each bore a bouquet of flowers/Each   style, informally cada uno traía un    one was carrying a bouquet   ramillete) Uno de sus empleados nos ofrecía sendas One of his employees offered each of us    copas de vino (JV, Mex.)    a glass of wine (1)  The NGLE notes that sendos ‘each’/‘one each’ is dying out everywhere, but it is quite often seen in Latin-American newspapers.

11.14  Single, double, treble, etc. un billete (Lat.-Am. boleto) de ida a one-way ticket una habitación individual a single room todos y cada uno de los problemas every single problem con una sola/única excepción with a single exception ni uno solo not a single one El aire contiene el doble de óxido de The air contains twice more nitrous    nitrógeno que en Washington (Granma, Cu.)    oxide than in Washington Mi sueldo es el doble del suyo My salary is double his el doble acristalamiento double glazing una cama de matrimonio double bed Duplicaron la suma They doubled the sum Esta cantidad es el triple de esa/ésa This quantity is triple that

11.15  Dimensions and other numerical expressions Este cuarto mide 2,5 (dos coma cinco) por   3,75 (tres coma setenta y cinco) El área es de tres metros cuadrados Forma un cuadrado de dos metros mil centímetros cúbicos

This room measures 2.5 by 3.75 The area is three square metres It’s two metres/meters square 1000 cc

132 Numerals El cable tiene cien metros de largo/de longitud Tiene cinco metros de hondo/ancho un motor de ocho caballos un motor de dos tiempos un ángulo de treinta grados Forma un ángulo recto Debe de haber cinco bajo cero números pares/impares/primos dos nueveavos dividido por tres sieteavos   (see 11.12.2 for discussion of -avo) diez elevado al cubo/sexto/noveno

The cable’s 100m long It’s five metres/meters deep/wide an 8-horsepower engine a two-stroke engine a 30-degree angle It makes a right-angle It must be five degrees below zero even/odd/prime numbers two-ninths divided by three-sevenths ten to the third/sixth/ninth (103, 106, 109)

11.16  Numerals: rules for writing There is no universal agreement about the rules for writing numbers, but the following recommendations are abridged, with a few additions, from the Academy’s Diccionario panhispánico de dudas and apply to non-technical works. Digits are used: (a)  for all numbers that consist of four or more digits; 56 982, 5 073, 2019, etc. (b)  for all numbers that include a decimal value: 2,8 kilos, 21,5 kilómetros; (c)  for percentages above 10: 11 por ciento, 67,5 por ciento; (d)  for numbers preceded or followed by an abbreviated unit or a symbol: 64km (sesenta y cuatro kilómetros), 24° (veinticuatro grados), 45 págs. (cuarenta y cinco páginas), €90 (noventa euros). (e)  for dates: el 23 de marzo de 2023; see 36.9 for more on the format of dates. Numbers are used for years (1998, 2005) but not for decades: los años noventa ‘the nineties’; (f)  when a number follows a noun and expresses a value in a series (this includes addresses): Avenida de la Libertad 7, 2º izquierda ‘7 Liberty Avenue, second floor apartment, left-hand door’, N-342 ‘National Highway 342’, habitación 378 ‘room 378’. Letters are used: (a)  for numbers that can be written with one word: quince, diecisiete, veinticuatro, doscientos,etc.; (b)  for round numbers expressible in two words: tres mil, cien millones; (c)  for numbers up to 99 joined by y: setenta y ocho, noventa y nueve; (d)  for all approximate numbers: unos setenta mil dólares ‘about 70,000 dollars’, ¡te lo he dicho cien veces!, ‘I’ve told you a hundred times!’, tengo mil y una cosas que hacer ‘I’ve got a thousand and one things to do’; (e)  for numbers that are quoted as spoken by someone: me dijo que quería comprar setecientos cincuenta ‘(s)he told me (s)he wanted to buy seven hundred and fifty’; (f)  for telling the time other than in timetables: llegó a las diez y media/a las cuatro cuarenta y cinco ‘(s)he arrived at 11.30’/‘at 4.45’.

11.17  Telephone numbers


(1)  El País says in its Libro de estilo 2014, 11.10, that one should not begin a sentence with a number except in headlines and abbreviated messages. It forbids its journalists to open with Diez personas resultaron heridas . . .’ ‘Ten persons were injured . . .’; better Un total de diez personas resultaron heridas. This is not observed everywhere: Tres personas murieron y 22 quedaron heridas . . . (El Comercio, Pe.).

11.17  Telephone numbers The Libro de estilo of El País, 2014, 11.24, recommends that telephone numbers should be expressed by pairs: 54 06 72, spoken as cincuenta y cuatro – cero seis – setenta y dos, and this is the usual way that phone numbers are said in Spanish. If the number of figures is uneven, the first group is written, and may be said, as a combination of hundreds: 542 67 22, spoken as quinientos cuarenta y dos– sesenta y siete – veintidós, or, usually, cinco – cuarenta y dos – sesenta y siete – veintidós. Extensions are sometimes written in brackets: 033 527 76 89 (19). Phone numbers are often written with hyphens separating the figures that are spoken as single numbers. However, there is no objection to saying phone numbers as separate figures – siete dos cuatro uno tres ocho nueve – 7241389 – which is easier for foreigners.

12 Personal pronouns, subject The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • •

Forms of personal subject pronouns (Section 12.1) Use of subject pronouns (Section 12.2) Formal and informal modes of address (tú, vos and usted(es)) (Section 12.3) Nosotros (Section 12.4) Pronouns and agreement (Section 12.5)

This chapter deals with the Spanish pronouns yo, tú and vos, usted, él, ella, nosotros/as, vosotros/as, ustedes, and ellos/ellas. These are the pronouns used as the subject of verbs, as in yo canto ‘I sing’, usted habla ‘you’re speaking’. However, they are used much less than their English equivalents for the reasons explained at 12.2.1. Object pronouns are discussed in Chapter 14. The use of the third-person object pronouns le/les and lo/la/los/las is discussed separately in Chapter 15. For possessive adjectives and pronouns, see Chapter 9. For the pronoun se and pronominal verbs (see Glossary), see Chapters 30 and 32.

12.1 Classification and forms ‘Subject’ pronouns are used to emphasize the subject of a verb: yo hablo, ‘I am talking’, él duerme ‘he is sleeping’. See 12.2.1 for details about their use. Personal Pronouns, Subject SINGULAR Person






tú (note accent!)


informal: see 12.3.2



informal. Only in some Lat. Am. countries. see 12.3.1



formal: see 12.3.2

3rd masc.

él (note accent!)

he, it

see 12.2.1–2

3rd fem.


she, it

see 12.2.1–2 PLURAL

1st masc.



see 12.4

1st fem.



see 12.4

2nd masc.



informal, Spain only: see 12.3.3

2nd fem.



informal, Spain only: see 12.3.3

2nd formal



formal in Spain; formal or familiar in Lat. Am. See 12.3.3

3rd masc.



see 12.2.1–2

3rd fem.



see 12.2.1–2

(1) For the third-person neuter pronoun ello see 8.3.

12.2  Use of subject pronouns


12.2  Use of subject pronouns 12.2.1  Emphasis and contrast Important: the identity of the subject of a Spanish verb is usually obvious from the verb’s ending: hablo ‘I speak’, habló ‘he/she/you/it spoke’, vendimos ‘we sold’, salieron ‘they/you (ustedes) went out’, etc. The forms yo/tú/él/ella/usted(es)/ellos/ellas are therefore usually only required for emphasis or contrast. It is a bad mistake, common among English speakers, to use Spanish subject pronouns unnecessarily. **Yo me vestí, y después yo fui a recoger a mi hijo, pero yo llegué tarde is completely unacceptable for ‘I got dressed, then I went to pick up my son, but I arrived late’. All the yos must be deleted except, perhaps, the first, and then only if it is needed for one of the reasons given in this section. The subject pronouns are used only: (a)  when the pronoun appears without a verb: —¿Quién ha venido? —Ellos —¿Quién lo ha hecho? —Nosotros/as —¿Quién es? —Yo

‘Who’s come?’ ‘They have/Them’ ‘Who did it?’ ‘We did’ ‘Who is it?’ ‘Me’

(b)  When there is a change of subject, not necessarily within the same sentence, and the ­subjects are contrasted with one another: Great confusion is caused by English speakers who ignore this rule. Mi hermana es médica y ella nunca está en casa means ‘my sister’s a doctor and she (i.e. someone else) is never at home’, whereas ‘. . . y nunca está en casa refers to my sister. Tú eres listo, pero ella es genial You’re clever but she’s a genius Mi mujer trabaja y yo me quedo en casa My wife works and I stay at home   con los niños   with the children ¿Mami le cuenta a Dios que Mita no va a Does Mummy tell God that Mita    misa y que yo me porto mal? (MP,    doesn’t go to Mass and that I misbehave?    Arg., dialogue) Él estaba con unos amigos y yo con un He was with some friends and I was with a   cliente (GZ, Mex., dialogue)    customer (c)  To emphasize the subject: Pues yo no quiero salir Well I don’t want to go out (i.e. even if   you do) Tú haz lo que te dé la gana You do whatever you like (implies    ‘I don’t care’) Ríete de mí, pero tú vas a llegar muy alto Laugh at me (if you like), but you’re going to    (ES, Mex., dialogue)    go a long way (lit. ‘very high’) (d)  To clarify ambiguous verb endings: yo tenía/él tenía ‘I had’/‘he had’, que yo fuese/que él fuese ‘that I should go/be’/‘that he should go/be’, yo estaba trabajando ‘I was working’. However, in most cases context makes the meaning clear and the pronoun is not needed. (e)  In the phrases soy yo ‘it’s me’, eres tú ‘it’s you’ (Arg. sos vos), es él/ella/usted ‘it’s him/her/you’, somos nosotros/nosotras ‘it’s us’, sois vosotros/vosotras ‘it’s you’, son ellos/ellas/ustedes ‘it’s them/you’. (1)  Important: English can emphasize almost any word simply by pronouncing it louder, e.g. ‘you need to talk to her not to her brother’, but this use of loudness or stress usually produces

136 Personal pronouns, subject an unfortunate effect in Spanish. The latter uses other devices, e.g. cleft sentences (es con ella con la que deberías hablar, no con su hermano; see 41.3) or changes of word order: deberías hablar con ella, no con su hermano. Further examples (bold type in English shows stress and loudness): ‘where are you ­going?’¿túadónde vas?/¿adónde vas tú?’, ‘I’m talking to you’ contigo es con quien estoy hablando/te estoy hablando a ti, ‘what’s he doing?’¿y él qué está haciendo?/¿qué está haciendo él?, ‘you’re not coming with us’ con nosotros no vienes/tú con nosotros no vienes’. See 42.1.2 for more remarks on this subject.

12.2.2  Subject pronouns for inanimate nouns Él/ella/ellos/ellas may translate ‘it’ or ‘they’ when applied to non-living things, especially after prepositions: no fuera de la casa sino dentro de ella ‘not outside the house but in it’, me gusta tu sombrero pero estarías mejor sin él ‘I like your hat, but you’d be better without it’. But they are taken to stand for human beings when they are used as the subject of a verb. One cannot therefore shorten el viento sopla ‘the wind’s blowing’ to él sopla, which means ‘(s)he’s blowing’; sopla means ‘it’s blowing’. Nor can one say *compré una mesa y un sillón. Él tiene tapizado de cuero y ella es de diseño italiano for el sillón tiene . . . y la mesa es de . . . ‘I bought a table and an armchair. The chair is leathercovered and the table is of Italian design’ (example from GDLE 19.2.2). Subject pronouns are, however, sometimes used in Latin America for a non-living subject where Peninsular speakers would use either no pronoun at all or an appropriate form of este/éste ‘this’/‘the latter’ or ese/aquel (or ése/aquél) ‘the former’: La “oposición” ha desaparecido de la radio, The ‘opposition’ has vanished from    de la televisión y de la prensa diaria . . .    radio, television and the daily press.   Ella subsiste, mínima, hostigada,    It operates, minimal and harassed,    desde las columnas de todos    from the opinion columns of all   los periódicos (MVLl, Pe.)    the newspapers

12.3  Formal and informal modes of address 12.3.1  Voseo In Spain vos for ‘you’ is archaic, but it is used instead of tú in many parts of Latin America. Vos for tú is universal in speech and writing in Argentina and students of this variety should use it; but see 20.12.5 for the subjunctive forms used with vos. It is accepted in most social circles in Uruguay, Paraguay, Eastern Bolivia and in most of Central America including the extreme south of Mexico: in Costa Rica, for example, tú is considered unnatural. It occurs locally in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela and is possibly spreading there, but it may be considered ‘lower-class’ or provincial, although attitudes vary locally. In Chile it is shunned by the middle and upper classes. It is not usual in Peru, Panama, Cuba, central and northern Mexico and in Puerto Rico, but there are pockets of voseo in some of these countries. The possessive adjective for vos is tu/tus, the object pronoun is te, and the prepositional form is vos: ¿te das cuenta de que estoy hablando de vos y de tu amiga? ‘do you realize I’m talking about you and your friend?’ The verb forms used with vos fluctuate according to region and are best learned locally. For the verb forms used in Buenos Aires see 16.7.1 note 2 and 21.2.3. Vos was once used as a polite second-person singular pronoun in Spain and it is still used there in ritual language in official documents, in some prayers, when addressing the King on very

12.3  Formal and informal modes of address


formal occasions, and in pseudo-archaic styles, e.g. in Buero Vallejo’s play Las meninas. In Spain this archaic vos takes the normal verb endings for vosotros, and the possessive adjective/pronoun is vuestro/a/os/as.

12.3.2  Tú (vos) or usted? Important: in Spain tú is nowadays used for persons with whom one is on first-name terms (but see note 2), i.e. between friends, fellow workers, family members, to children and animals, and in prayers. It is also much used between strangers under the age of about 40, and even the over-40s will find that young waiters or shop-workers call them tú. Tú is therefore used far more than the French tu or German Du, and it is much more common than 70 years ago Tú (or vos in parts of Latin America) should not be used anywhere to persons in authority. e.g. the police, or to elderly strangers unless they encourage its use. Use of tú where usted is expected may express contempt or threat: muggers call their victims tú, not usted. In most of Latin America tú or vos is used less readily than in Spain and learners should ­probably err on the side of caution by sticking to usted (with strangers). A not very educated female ­character in a Mexican novel complains that los españoles aunque no se conozcan se gritan y se tutean (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘Spaniards shout at one another and call people tú even when they don’t know them’. (1)  In Chile usted and tú can be mixed together for familiar address. In the following extract an upper-class mother on the beach calls to her little son Alvarito, métase un poco al agua. Mójese las patitas siquiera . . . ¿Ves que es rica el agüita? (SV, Ch.) ‘Alvarito, go into the water a bit. At least get your feet wet. Do you see how lovely the water is?’ A similar phenomenon is found in Colombia where usted is used even for informal address, i.e. where only tú or vos would be used elsewhere; this phenomenon is called ustedeo. (2)  Usted and a first name can be combined when one wishes to mark a distance from someone who is familiar, e.g. an employee: bueno, Pura, pues hasta mañana. Y cierre al salir (CMG, Sp., spoken to the maid) ‘Right, Pura, well, see you tomorrow. And shut the door on the way out’. Usted is also used to elderly persons when they are addressed respectfully as don + their first name: ¿cómo está usted, don Roberto? (3)  In some families, especially in rural areas, usted(es) is used to address parents and grand­ parents, but the custom is dying out.

12.3.3  Vosotros/as or ustedes? Important: vosotros (vosotras when speaking to females) is the plural of tú and is used in Spain for two or more persons in the same circumstances as tú is used for one person. It is normal in Spain but in Latin America vosotros/as is not used in everyday language and is replaced by ustedes, a phenomenon also found in the Canary Islands and locally in popular speech in Southern Spain. A Latin-American mother addresses her child as tú or, in some places, vos, and her children as ustedes. Even animals are called ustedes in Latin America. Foreigners must remember to use vosotras to two or more females, but vosotros when the groups include at least one male. Vosotros and its possessive vuestro are sometimes found in Latin America in business correspondence, flowery speeches and similar solemn texts, cf. . . . dada la recomposición de relaciones entre la

138 Personal pronouns, subject Argentina y vuestro país ‘. . . given the re-establishment of relations between Argentina and your country’ (from a business letter sent to Britain).

12.3.4  Use of usted/ustedes Usted is a formal or polite pronoun meaning ‘you’ and is similar to the French vous, German Sie, although French and German usage is a poor guide: see 12.3.2–3. In Spain ustedes is the plural of usted and is reserved for formal situations, but in Latin America ustedes is the plural of usted and also of tú/vos. It is therefore the only second-person plural subject pronoun in daily use. Since they descend from the archaic formula Vuestra Merced ‘Your Grace’, they require third-person verb forms: usted habla ‘you speak’, ustedes hablan ‘you (plural) speak’. Usted/ustedes used to be abbreviated to V./Vs., Vd./Vds., or Ud./Uds in official documents or business letters, but the full, lower-case forms usted/ustedes are now usual and recommended. Object forms of usted/ustedes are discussed under third-person pronouns in Chapters 14 and15. (1)  As subject pronouns usted/ustedes need only appear once at the beginning of a text or utterance and then occasionally thereafter to recall the polite tone. Whereas total omission of usted/ ustedes may sound too informal, constant repetition may sound grovelling.

12.4  Nosotros/as, nos The first-person plural is constantly used in books and articles when the author is modestly referring to her/himself. It is less pompous than the English ‘royal We’: en este trabajo hemos procurado enfocar el problema de la inflación desde . . . ‘in this work I (‘we’) have tried to approach the problem of inflation from . . .’. (1) Important: when the subjects of the verb are exclusively females, nosotras must be used. (2)  The following construction is found in the Southern Cone: fuimos con mi hermano . . . (elsewhere fui con mi hermano/mi hermano y yo fuimos) ‘I went with my brother’ (lit. ‘we went with my brother’), y así nos fuimos a la Patagonia, con Matilde (ES, Arg., interview; Sp. fui con Matilde/ Matilde y yo fuimos) ‘so Matilde and I went to Patagonia’. (3)  Nos for nosotros is obsolete, but is used by popes, bishops and monarchs in official documents or ritual language.

12.5  Pronoun agreement in English and Spanish Verbs sometimes agree with personal pronouns in ways strange to English speakers: Soy yo/Somos nosotros/Fuisteis It’s me/It’s us/It was you/It was them   vosotros/Fueron ellos   (lit. ‘I am me’, ‘we are we’, ‘you were    you’, ‘they were they’) El guapo de la foto eres tú The handsome one in the photo is you Debería volver a escribir, pero no tiene She ought to start writing again, but    estímulos ya. Y luego que tampoco la    there’s nothing to stimulate her any more.   ayudamos nadie (CMG, Sp., dialogue)    And after all, none of us helps her either —¿Quién ha dicho eso? —He sido yo ‘Who said that?’ ‘It was me’ [any second- or third-person] y yo or You/(S)he and I are going   nosotros vamos

12.5  Pronoun agreement in English and Spanish


Tú or vosotros y [usted(es) or third person] You and (s)he/you are going   van Él y usted(es) [or any third-person pronoun] He and you/they are going   van When answering the phone one says soy Ana ‘it’s Ana’, literally ‘I’m Ana’, soy Antonio ‘it’s Antonio speaking’. Es Ana ‘it’s Ana’ is only possible when someone else is talking about her.

13 Personal pronouns used with prepositions This short chapter discusses: • The forms of pronouns after prepositions (Section 13.1) • Conmigo and contigo (Section 13.2) • The pronoun sí and the form consigo (Section 13.3)

13.1 Forms of pronouns after prepositions Yo, tú and se have separate forms used after prepositions: mí, ti and sí (this pronoun is discussed at 13.3). In the other cases the normal subject forms, él, ella, ello, usted, nosotros/as, vosotros/as, ustedes, ellos/ellas, are used after prepositions. Important: mí and sí have an accent to distinguish them from mi ‘my’ and si ‘if’. Ti has no accent – a fact constantly forgotten by foreigners and natives alike: No sabe nada de mí No tengo nada contra ti Entre más cerca de ti estoy, más energía recibo por minuto (EP, Mex., dialogue) (entre más is normally cuanto más elsewhere) Creo en vos (Arg. Sp.and Mex. . . . en ti) no delante de usted/ustedes Me refiero a él/ella Confiamos en ustedes/vosotros/vosotras Corrió tras ellos aparte de ellas

(S)he knows nothing about me I’ve nothing against you The closer I am to you the more energy I get every minute I believe in you not in front of you I’m referring to him/her We trust/rely on you (S)he ran after them except for them (fem.)

Seven prepositions or preposition-like words take the ordinary form of all the subject pronouns (but the pronoun se obeys slightly different rules: see 13.3 note 4). These are: entre ‘between’/‘among’ (but see note 5), excepto ‘except’, hasta when it means ‘even’ rather than ‘as far as’, incluso ‘including’/‘even’, menos ‘except’, salvo ‘except’/‘save’, según ‘according to’: Todos lo hicieron menos/excepto/salvo tú Que se quede entre tú y yo Es un asunto entre Hernán y yo (GZ, Mex.) Hasta tú puedes hacer eso Según tú no sé nada de la vida (ES, Mex., dialogue)

They all did it except/save you Let’s keep it between you and me It’s something between Hernán and me Even you can do that According to you I know nothing about life

(1) Important: English-speakers must avoid errors like *excepto mí for excepto yo, *entre ti y mí for entre tú y yo, etc.

13.3  Sí, consigo


(2)  Important: the preposition is repeated after conjunctions (y, o): para ti y para mí ‘for you and me’, not *para ti y mí; para Mamá y para ti ‘for Mother and you’, not *para Mamá y ti. (3)  Note the set phrases de tú a tú ‘on equal terms’, hablar de tú (i.e. tutear) ‘to address someone as tú’. (4)  For constructions like ?detrás tuyo for detrás de ti ‘behind you’, or ?delante mío for delante de mí ‘in front of me’, see 9.7. (5)  Mí is used after entre in the set phrase entre mí as in esto va a acabar mal, decía entre mí ‘this is going to end badly, I said to myself’. There is a popular tendency in some regions to use the prepositional forms with entre when this refers to actual spatial location: esta noche a la Inés la voy a poner a dormir en mi cama, entre mí y la Pelusa (MP, Arg., dialogue; Sp. entre la Pelusa y yo) ‘tonight I’m going to put Inés to sleep in my bed between me and Pelusa’ (la Inés for Inés is popular style; see 3.2.21). (6)  Vos is the prepositional form used instead of ti in Argentina and other regions of voseo: ¿querés que mienta por vos? (CP, Arg., dialogue, i.e. ¿quieres que mienta por ti?) ‘do you want me to lie for you?’

13.2  Conmigo, contigo Important: conmigo and contigo are special forms used instead of con + yo, con + tú: ¿vienes conmigo? ‘are you coming with me?’, no quiero discutir contigo ‘I don’t want to argue with you’. In areas of voseo, contigo is rarely heard: no quiero discutir con vos ‘I don’t want to argue with you’. In the popular speech of some Latin-American countries one hears ?con mí, con yo, con ti, but these forms should be avoided.

13.3  Sí, consigo Sí (with an accent) and consigo are special prepositional forms of the pronoun se. Sí is used after prepositions other than con. Consigo is used for con + se and means ‘with himself/herself/yourself’ or ‘with yourselves/themselves’. Sí is combined with mismo when it is used reflexively: se lavan a sí mismos ‘they wash themselves’. In other cases use of mismo with sí is variable, with no clear agreement among native speakers. No se refiere a sí misma She’s not referring to herself Este fenómeno ya es muy interesante This phenomenon is in itself very   de por sí    interesting Un brillante que para sí lo quisieran A diamond many would like for   muchos (advert., Sp.)    themselves Volvió en sí (see note 3) (S)he came round (regained consciousness) Colocó el vaso junto a sí (LOr, Cu.) He put the glass next to himself . . . tan perezosa que difícilmente era capaz . . . so lazy that she was hardly able to    de leer por sí sola    read by herself No puede dar más de sí (S)he’s doing the best (s)he can Una siempre debe estar segura de sí misma One should always be sure of oneself   (ES, Mex., dialogue)   (woman speaking) Se dedicaba a destruir dentro de sí todo lo He dedicated himself to destroying within   que antes había amado (EP, Mex.)    himself everything he had once loved Está disgustado consigo mismo He’s cross with himself

142 Personal pronouns used withprepositions (1)  Some speakers insist on adding mismo to sí and do not accept phrases like junto a sí without it. (2)  Se is unique in being the only pronoun requiring a prepositional form after entre: entre tú y yo ‘between you and me’, but entre sí ‘among themselves’: hablan castellano entre sí (or entre ellos) ‘they speak Spanish among themselves’, los agentes se miraron entre sí (EM, Mex.) ‘the policemen looked at one another’. Decía Juan entre sí means ‘John was saying to himself’. (3)  There is a strong colloquial tendency, criticized by the Academy (NGLE 16.4d), to use sí in the first and second persons of volver en sí ‘to regain consciousness’, dar de sí ‘to give of oneself’ and of a few other constructions. One hears ?volví en sí, and the correct volví en mí is often avoided, even by educated speakers. The last of the following examples reflects the hesitation of some people: volví en sí ya estando en la clínica (interview, El Nacional, Mex.) ‘I came round when I was (lit. ‘already being’) in the clinic’, —Perdona, ¿no te importa ponerte de pie para que te veamos? —Estoy de pie, es que no doy más de sí (EA, Sp., dialogue) ‘Excuse me, would you mind standing up so we can see you?’ ‘I am standing up. This is all there is of me’, cuando volví en sí, o en mí, escuché un rumor (SP, Sp., dialogue) ‘when I came round I heard a noise’. (4)  There is disagreement about sí in the modern language. Sí is required when it does not refer to identified persons as in hay personas que hablan mucho de sí (mismas) ‘there are people who talk about themselves a lot’. It should be used (NGLE 16.4n) in reflexive sentences where it is the reinforced direct object of the verb: se lava a sí mismo ‘he’s washing himself’, se criticaron a sí mismos ‘they criticized themselves’; rather than . . . a él mismo, a ellos mismos . . . But in other cases when sí refers to a specific person, the modern tendency is to use a non-­reflexive prepositional pronoun. In answer to a questionnaire, the great majority of informants (professional people and students from Spain) rejected sí in the following sentences: hablan francés entre ellos (for entre sí) ‘they speak French among themselves’, lo mantuvo contra ella con uno de sus brazos (ES, Arg., for contra sí) ‘she held him against herself with one arm’, tenía las manos apoyadas en la barra, delante de él (ante sí) ‘his hands were resting on the bar, in front of him(self)’. In the previous example, ante sí is tolerable, since ante is itself literary; but delante de él is normal in speech, although some speakers respect the difference between ante sí ‘in front of him(self)’ and ante él ‘in front of him’ (someone else). Sí is obligatory in set phrases like de por sí ‘in itself’, por sí, en sí (mismo) ‘in itself’. (5)  Sí seems to be avoided with usted, probably because the latter is felt to be second person while sí is third person: usted tiene ante usted a un hombre que . . . (interview, El Nacional, Mex.) ‘you have before you a man who . . .’, guárdeselo para usted ‘keep it for yourself’, yo sé que usted toca para usted misma (JC, Arg., dialogue) ‘I know you play (music) for yourself’. (6)  The French pronoun soi has suffered a similar decline over the years, and has been replaced in many contexts by lui-même, elle-même (él mismo, ella misma).

14 Personal pronouns, object The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Forms of object pronouns (Section 14.1) Uses of object pronouns (Section 14.2) Order of object pronouns (Section 14.2.4) Position of object pronouns (Section 14.3) Quiero verlo or lo quiero ver? (Section 14.3.4–5) Emphasizing object pronouns (Section 14.4) Limits on the possible combinations of object pronouns (Section 14.5) Object pronouns and verbs of motion (Section 14.6.1) Resultar and ser with personal pronouns (Section 14.6.2–3) Resumptive lo with ser and estar (Section 14.7) Object pronouns used to show personal involvement (Section 14.8) Replacement of le by se (the ‘rule of two l’s’) (Section 14.9) Latin-American se los for se lo (Section 14.9.2) Redundant object pronouns (Section 14.10)

This chapter deals with the ‘object’ forms of personal pronouns: me, te, lo, la, le, nos, os, los, las, les. These pronouns can cause problems for English-speaking students. The controversial issue of the difference between lo/la/los/las and le/les is discussed separately in Chapter 15.

14.1 Forms of object pronouns The term ‘object pronouns’ is used in this book to refer to me, te, lo, la, le, nos, os, los, las, les and se. Traditional grammars often divide these pronouns into two lists, ‘direct object’ pronouns and ‘indirect object’ pronouns, but only the third-person set has two forms, lo/la/los/las and le/les, and the difference between them is not always the same as the traditional distinction between ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ objects. See Chapter 15. For ‘pronominal’ verbs like irse, caerse, lavarse (often misleadingly called ‘reflexive’ verbs), see Chapter 30. SINGULAR Subject pronoun

Object pronoun

English equivalent




tú (and vos)


you (familiar)

él, ella, usted

lo/le (masc.), la/le (fem.)

him, her, it, you (see note 1)

144 Personal pronouns, object PLURAL nosotros, nosotras



vosotros, vosotras


you (familiar, Spain only)

ellos, ellas, ustedes

los/les (masc.), las/les (fem.)

them, you (see note 1)

(1) The difference between the direct object third-person forms (lo/la/los/las) and le/les is discussed in Chapter 15. (2)  Usted/Ustedes take third-person object pronouns: los (in Spain also les) vi (a ustedes) ayer ‘I saw you (plural) yesterday’. (3)  Te is the object form of tú and also of vos where vos is used: see 12.3.1. (4)  Os corresponds to vosotros/vosotras and is therefore not heard in Latin America, where ustedes is used for both polite and familiar address: see 12.3.3.

14.2  Rules governing the use of object pronouns 14.2.1  The vagueness of Spanish object pronouns Important: the strangest feature of Spanish object pronouns for English speakers is the ­vaguenessoftheir meanings. Spanish object pronouns merely indicate the person or thing ‘affected’ in some way by a verb phrase, but they do not themselves show how the object isaffected:this must be worked out from the meaning of the verb, from context or by commonsense. Typical examples are te pedí un tequila which means either ‘I asked for a tequila for you’ or ‘I asked you for a tequila’, or me operé de apendicitis, which will surely mean ‘I was operated on for appendicitis’ but could have the unlikely meaning ‘I operated on myself for appendicitis’. This vagueness can be seen in these 15 different translations of the Spanish wordme: Me han visto They’ve seen me Me dejó una finca (S)he left an estate to me Me ha aparcado el coche (S)he’s parked the car   for me Me compró una agenda (S)he bought a diary   off me/for me Me sacaron tres balas They took three bullets   out of me Me pusieron un marcapasos They put a   pacemaker in me Me han quitado a mis hijos They’ve taken my   children from me Me tiene envidia (S)he’s envious of me

Me tiró una bola de nieve (S)he threw a   snowball at me Me encontraron mil dólares They found $1000   on me Me echaron una manta They threw a blanket   over me Voy a buscarme un hotel I’m going to find   myself a hotel Siempre me pone pegas (S)he always finds fault   with me Me rompí el brazo I broke my arm Se me ha roto el lavavajillas The dishwasher    has broken down ‘on’ me

(1)  A special case arises when the object pronoun and the subject pronoun (usually indicated bythe verb ending) refer to the same person or thing as in me lavo ‘I’m washing (myself)’, te equivocaste ‘you were mistaken’, Miguel se va ‘Miguel’s leaving’, nos caímos ‘we fell over’. We call such verbs ‘pronominal verbs’ and discuss them in Chapter 30.

14.2  Rules governing the use of object pronouns


14.2.2 The difference between direct object and indirect object pronouns Important: there is no difference in form between first- and second-person direct object p ­ ronouns, and indirect object pronouns as can be seen from these examples: Mario me/te/nos vio Mario saw me/you/us (direct obj.) Mario me/te/nos dio un regalo Mario gave a present to me/you/us (indirect   object) The crucial difference is that English indirect objects can only receive something, Spanish indirect objects can receive or lose. English and Spanish both say te enviaron un paquete ‘they sent you a parcel’. But English does not allow *‘they confiscated you a parcel’ whereas Spanish does: te confiscaron un paquete. This basic difference between the two languages must be remembered at all times.

14.2.3  Use of third-person object pronouns for usted/ustedes Third-person object pronouns also have a second-person meaning since they are used for usted/ ustedes ‘you’: Doctora Smith, le aseguro que la llamé Dr Smith (fem.), I assure you I rang   ayer   you/her yesterday Le vi ayer (Spain only; see 15.5.1 and 2) I saw you/him yesterday Lo vi ayer (Latin America and, I saw it/him/you yesterday    optionally, Spain too) Los/las vi ayer I saw you/them yesterday

14.2.4  Order of object pronouns Important: when more than one object pronoun appears, their invariable order is: 1  2   3    4 se te/os me/nos le/lo/la/les/los/las i.e. se, if it occurs, comes first, second person precedes first person, and third-person pronouns come last: María te lo dijo Me lo encontré el otro día (GZ, Mex., dialogue) No querían comunicárnoslo Se te ha caído la tinta Nos los vamos a comprar Se nos ha vuelto listísimo Yo me le fui encima (JC, Arg., Sp. yo me le   eché encima)

Maria told it to you I met him by chance the other day They didn’t want to tell it to us You’ve dropped the ink We’re going to buy them for ourselves He’s turned into a genius ‘on us’ I lunged at her

(1)  As explained in Chapter 15, in Spain le is constantly used as a direct object pronoun referring to human males: no le conozco for no lo conozco ‘I don’t know him’. (2)  Reversal of the correct order with se, e.g. ?me se ha caído for se me ha caído ‘I’ve dropped it’ (lit. ‘it’s fallen down “on me”’), *¿me se oye? for ¿se me oye? ‘can anyone hear me?’/‘is anyone listening?’, is a well-known mistake of uneducated speech, sometimes imitated by comedians to raise a laugh.

146 Personal pronouns, object (3)  In all the examples given, the pronouns are in the order indirect object – direct object (te lo doy ‘I give it to you’, se lo tragaron ‘they swallowed it’, etc.). However, if te me criticaron means ‘they criticized you to me’, how does one say ‘they criticized me to you’? Apparently, the same order is used for both meanings, so te me recomendaron/alabaron/ criticaron/presentaron ‘they recommended/praised/ criticized/introduced you to me’ could also be understood as ‘. . . me to you’; the GDLE 19.5.7 can find no explanation for this strange ambiguity. In practice the problem is avoided, e.g. by simply saying me recomendaron, etc. There is no problem if the verb form makes the meaning clear: ¡qué guapa te me has puesto! can only mean ‘how attractive you have made yourself for me!’ and iba a llamarte pero te me anticipaste can only mean ‘I was going to phone/call you but you called me first/got in first’. (4) Important: one can never join these unstressed pronouns with ‘and’, ‘but’ or any other word: ‘I saw him and her’ is never **lo y la vi. The only possibility is to use the contrastive forms(14.4): lo/le vi a él y la vi a ella or los vi a él y a ella. ‘I saw him but not her’ is lo/le vi a él pero no a ella. (5) Identical pronouns cannot appear side by side, so combinations like me me, se se cannot occur (see 30.11 for how to avoid the latter).

14.3  Position of object pronouns The position of object pronouns in relation to a verb depends on the form of the verb.

14.3.1  Pronouns with finite verbs Pronouns appear in the order given at 14.2.4 immediately before finite verbs, i.e. all verb forms except for the infinitive, gerund, past participle and imperative: Se los entregamos We gave them (masc.) to him/her/   it/them/you (for se here see 14.9) Te los enviaré luego I’ll send them (masc.) to you later Nos las guardan They’re keeping/keep them (fem.) for us In compound tenses (i.e. tenses formed with haber plus the past participle) the pronouns are placed before haber: Lo he comprado Nos habían visto

I’ve bought it They had seen us

(1)  No word may come between the object pronouns and a verb so a sentence like **la siempre había admirado is impossible for siempre la había admirado ‘I had always admired her’. In pronunciation these pronouns are always unstressed: me lo ha escrito is pronounced as one word [me-lo-aes-kɾí-to]. (2) In pre-twentieth-century literary style, object pronouns were sometimes joined to finite verbs: contestoles así ‘(s)he answered them thus’ = les contestó así, encontrábase exiliado ‘he found himself exiled’ = se encontraba exiliado, ocurriósele ‘it occurred to him/her’ = se le ocurrió. Rules for this construction are omitted here since it is now extinct except in a few set phrases, e.g. habrase visto . . . ‘well, did you ever . . .’ (usually written with an unnecessary accent habráse visto), diríase (literary) ‘one might say’, dícese (literary) ‘it is said’. Dícese que survives in various forms in spoken LatinAmerican Spanish, e.g. dizque; see 32.4.1 note 8.

14.3  Position of object pronouns


Pronouns attached to finite forms are occasionally seen, with declining frequency, in solemn headlines in some Latin-American countries: Enrédanse gobiernos de Washington y Londres en mentiras sobre Irak (Granma, Cu.) ‘Governments in Washington and London bogged down in lies over Iraq’.

14.3.2  Position of object pronouns with imperatives Object pronouns are added to positive (not negative) imperatives: dímelo ‘tell it to me’, cómprenoslo ‘buy it for us’, but no me lo digas, no nos lo compre. See Chapter 21 for a full discussion.

14.3.3  Position of object pronouns with infinitives (a)  If the infinitive is not preceded by a finite verb, pronouns are suffixed to it in the usual order: Sería una locura encenderlo It would be crazy to set fire to it Rechazaron el proyecto por considerarlo They rejected the project on the grounds   demasiado caro    it was too expensive Estamos hartos de oírtelo We’re fed up with hearing it from you . . . amplios sectores que no están dispuestos broad sections of the population who   a permitírselo (La Jornada, Mex.)    are not prepared to allow them to do it Important: as the examples show, when two or more pronouns are attached to an infinitive, a written accent is needed to show that the position of the stress has not changed. Compare quitarme and quitármela. (b)  If the infinitive depends on a finite verb, there are two possibilities: Either join the pronouns to the infinitive, as in the previous examples: Quiero hacerlo I want to do it Pudieron salvarla They managed to save her Intentaron robárnoslo They tried to steal it from us Propusieron alquilárnoslos They suggested renting them to us No tomé nada, alguien debió I didn’t take anything, someone must   dármelo (Informador, Mex.)    have given it to me This is the safest option for students as it is always correct. Or put the pronouns before the finite verb: lo quiero hacer, te lo acabo de dar, etc. See the following section for a discussion of this possibility.

14.3.4  Quiero verlo or lo quiero ver? Students will constantly hear constructions with ‘shifted’ pronouns as in lo voy a hacer, lo quieren comprar instead of voy a hacerlo, quieren comprarlo ‘I’m going to do it’, ‘they want to buy it’. Both forms are equally acceptable, but the shifted forms are more common in spontaneous speech. The following verbs frequently appear in this construction, but many other verbs also allow it (see 22.2.2): querer Te la quiero enviar/Quiero enviártela Por mucho que yo se lo quiera    dar/quiera dárselo, no puedo

I want to send it (fem.) to you However much I want to give it (masc.)   to you/him/her/them, I can’t

148 Personal pronouns, object poder No puedo atenderle/No le puedo I can’t attend to you/her/him at this   atender en este momento    moment Usted no me lo puede quitar/no puede You can’t take it/him away from me   quitármelo deber Deberías explicárnoslo/Nos lo deberías explicar tener que Tiene que devolvértelo/Te lo tiene que    devolver acabar de Pero acabo de verlo/lo acabo de ver

You ought to explain it to us (S)he has to give it back to you

But I’ve just seen him!

llegar a Incluso llegué a caerme/me llegué a caer I even managed to fall down a flight of   por unas escaleras   stairs haber de He de consultarlo/Lo he de I’d better sleep on it (lit. ‘consult my   consultar con la almohada    pillow’) dejar de No dejes de llamarla/No la dejes de llamar

Don’t forget to phone her

ir a Me temía que Roberto fuera a contárselo/   se lo fuera a contar a mamá

I was worried that Roberto would go and    tell it to mother

volver a Como vuelvas a decírmelo/Como me lo    vuelvas a decir, me voy

If you say it to me again, I’m going

14.3.5  When is the shifted construction not allowed? The ‘shifted’ construction is not possible with all verbs: the list at 22.2.2 shows most of the verbs that allow the construction. There are several situations in which the shifted construction is not allowed with any verbs or has restrictions: (1)  When pronouns are joined to an infinitive they must stay together if they are shifted. Tienes que decírmelo can be shifted to me lo tienes que decir ‘you have to tell it to me’, but not to *me tienes que decirlo. (2)  If the finite (non-infinitive) verb already has an object pronoun, shifting is not allowed. In te interesa hacerlo ‘it’s in your interest to do it’ the te goes with interesa, so *te lo interesa hacer is not possible. Some verbs, notably those meaning ‘to allow’ and also ver, are exceptions to this rule. Me lo permitieron hacer is informal for me permitieron hacerlo ‘they allowed me to do it’, me la dejaron ver is possible for me dejaron verla ‘they let me see her/it’. Nos ha visto hacerlo for nos lo ha visto hacer ‘(s) he saw us do it’ is also possible, but colloquial in tone.

14.3  Position of object pronouns


(3)  No other word can be placed in a shifted construction between the finite verb and the infinitive: preferiría no hacerlo ‘I’d prefer not to do it’ but not *lo preferiría no hacer, quiero mucho verla, but not *la quiero mucho ver ‘I really want to see her’, etc. Exceptions: a few common verb phrases that include a preposition, usually a or de, or the conjunction que allow shifting in colloquial speech: lo trató de hacer/trató de hacerlo ‘(s)he tried to do it’, lo empezó a hacer/empezó a hacerlo ‘(s)he began to do it’, no le tengo nada que envidiar ‘I’ve got nothing to envy him/her/you for’, el que no se tiene que andar metiendo eres tú (AM, Mex., dialogue) ‘the one who shouldn’t go round getting involved is you’. (4)  If the main verb is a positive imperative (and is therefore not strictly speaking a finite verb form), shifting is not allowed: procura hacerlo ‘try to do it’, venga a verla ‘come and see her/it’, not *lo procura hacer, *la venga a ver. Colloquial speech may break this rule with dejar: déjamelo hacer a mi estilo (ABV, Sp., dialogue, for déjame hacerlo . . .) ‘let me do it my way’. With negative imperatives, shifting may occur in familiar speech: no intentes hacerlo/no lo intentes hacer ‘don’t try to do it’, cuidado, no vayas a mancharlo/no lo vayas a manchar ‘be careful not to make it dirty’, no te empieces a incluir tú en las culpas (CMG, Sp., dialogue) ‘don’t start feeling guilty’/‘don’t start blaming yourself as well’ for no empieces a incluirte tú en las culpas. (5)  Hay que in any of its tenses does not allow pronoun shifting in educated speech, although sentences like ?lo hay que hacer (for hay que hacerlo) are heard in popular speech in certain regions. The NGLE 28.6s disapproves. Parecer also does not allow shifting: parecía reconocerla ‘(s)he seemed to recognize her’, not *la parecía reconocer. (6)  If the finite verb means saying, believing, claiming, etc., shifting is not allowed: creen saberlo todo but not *lo creen saber todo, ‘they think they know everything’, negabas haberlo hecho but not *lo negabas haber hecho ‘you denied having done it’ (GDLE 19.5.5). (7)  If more than one infinitive is involved in a construction that allows pronoun shifting, several solutions are possible, the first being safest for foreigners: No quiero volver a decírtelo/No quiero    volvértelo a decir/No te lo quiero volver a   decir Puedes empezar a hacerlo/Puedes empezarlo    a hacer/Lo puedes empezar a hacer Debes tratar de hacerlo/Debes tratarlo de    hacer (lo debes tratar de hacer is colloquial)

I don’t want to tell you it again You can start to do it You must try to do it

14.3.6  Position of pronouns with the gerund (a)  In combination with estar (continuous verb forms) and a few other verbs, e.g. andar, ir, venir, quedarse, the pronouns may be either attached or shifted: Te lo estoy contando/Estoy contándotelo Se estaba dejando ganar por la autocompasión   (MVLl, Pe., or estaba dejándose ganar) Os lo estoy diciendo/Estoy diciéndooslo   (Spain only: note the double o. Lat. Am. se    lo estoy diciendo/estoy diciéndoselo) Se lo va contando a todos/Va contándoselo a todos Se lo/le quedó mirando/Se quedó mirándolo/le

I’m telling you it/telling it to you He was giving in to self-pity I’m telling you (S)he goes around telling it to everyone (S)he stood gazing at him

150 Personal pronouns, object (b) In nearly all other cases the pronouns are attached to the gerund: disfruta mirándolos ‘(s)he enjoys himself/herself by looking at them’, hay muchos usuarios esperándolo (Excélsior, Mex.), ‘there are lots of users waiting for it’. (1)  Attaching pronouns to the gerund is slightly more formal and probably safer for foreign students. If the auxiliary verb is an infinitive preceded by one of the verbs that allow pronoun shifting (see 14.3.4–5), several solutions are possible: debe estar recordándolo/ ?debe estarlo recordando/lo debe estar recordando ‘(s)he must be remembering it/him’, tenían que seguir observándolos/los tenían que seguir observando/ ?tenían que seguirlos observando ‘they had to go on observing them’. (2)  Seguir allows both constructions, but a number of native speakers would not accept pronoun shifting with continuar: se seguían viendo/seguían viéndose ‘they went on seeing one another’, nos siguen faltando 43 (Excélsior, Mex.) ‘we’re still missing 43 (people)’, ella lo siguió encontrando todo muy natural (ABE, Pe.) ‘she continued to find it all very natural’; but continuaban viéndose, continúa dándome la lata ‘(s)he’s still being a nuisance to me’ rather than *se continuaban viendo, *me continúa dando . . .

14.3.7  Position of object pronouns with past participles Pronouns come before the auxiliary verb: Se ha equivocado Se lo han traído de China Te lo hemos mandado ya

(S)he’s made a mistake They’ve brought it from China We’ve already sent it to you

(1)  In phrases in which pronoun shifting is possible (discussed at 14.3.4–5), there are two options: se lo hemos tenido que vender/hemos tenido que vendérselo ‘we had to sell it to him/her’, la he vuelto a ver/he vuelto a verla ‘I’ve seen her again’, no he podido abrirlo/no lo he podido abrir ‘I wasn’t able to open it’, ha debido de hablarle/le ha debido de hablar ‘(s)he must have spoken to him/her’. (2)  Literary language used to join personal pronouns to past participles, especially when the auxiliary verb was omitted. Kany, 156, cites un accidente ocurrídole en el corral de yeguas ‘an accident that happened to him in the yard where the mares are kept’ from Uruguay. Seco (1998), 334, says this is ‘inelegant’, and the sentence would now be written un accidente que le había ocurrido . . .

14.4  Emphasis of object pronouns 14.4.1  Emphasis of object pronouns in non-reflexive phrases The object pronouns may be emphasized by adding a + the prepositional form of the pronoun (i.e. the forms shown at 13.1): La vi a ella, pero no a él I saw her but not him Te lo darán a ti, pero no a ella They’ll give it to you, but not to her ¡A mí me lo dices! You’re telling me! Si me retirara, pues, tampoco lo vería a usted If I retired, well, I wouldn’t see you   (SG, Mex., dialogue)    either (1)  English speakers are tempted to omit the unstressed pronoun in these constructions, but *vi a ella is not Spanish for la vi a ella ‘I saw her’. However, usted occasionally appears alone: ¿en qué puedo servir a ustedes? (example from GDLE 19.4.1) ‘how can I help you’, more often . . . servirles a ustedes.

14.5  Combinations of object pronouns


14.4.2  Emphasis of object pronouns in reflexive phrases ‘Reflexive’ phrases may be emphasized by the appropriate number and gender of mismo added to a prepositional pronoun. Reciprocal sentences (i.e. meaning ‘one another’) can be emphasized by the appropriate form of el uno and el otro: Se lavaron a sí mismos They washed themselves Es difícil vivir con quien no se It is difficult to live with someone who    estima a sí mismo (Abc, Sp.)    does not value himself/herself Se quieren el uno al otro They love one another Se quieren la una a la otra (two females) They love one another Sólo nos tenemos los unos a los otros All we have is one another (i.e. our   (La Jornada, Mex.)    fellow humans) (1)  If a male and a female are involved in a reciprocal action one might expect el uno a la otra or la una al otro, but both pronouns are normally left in the masculine: Rubén y María se quieren el uno al otro ‘Ruben and Maria love one another’, but María y Laura se quieren la una a la otra (two females).

14.5  Combinations of object pronouns 14.5.1  Limits on the possible combinations of object pronouns Spanish allows the following combinations of object pronouns before a verb or attached to an infinitive, imperative or gerund; (a), (b) and (c) are very common: (a)  One direct object pronoun: la vi ‘I saw her/it’, sin conocerlos ‘without knowing them’ (b)  One indirect object pronoun me dijiste ‘you said to me’, estaban enseñándonos la muestra ‘they were showing us the sample’; (c)  An indirect object pronoun followed by a direct object pronoun me lo diste ‘you gave it to me’, ¿puedo probármelo? ‘can I try it on?’, cómpratelo ‘buy it for yourself’. The following two combinations are less common: (d)  Two indirect object pronouns: me le has estropeado la camisa ‘you’ve spoilt his/her shirt for me!’, sírvamele un helado al niño ‘serve the little boy an ice-cream for me’, échamele un vistazo a esta carta ‘have a look at this letter for me’. This combination of two indirect objects is avoided when the first pronoun is not me, so sentences like *nos te pusieron una multa ‘they gave you a fine “on us”’ are avoided. It also sounds very strange when the second pronoun is not le/les: *me nos has roto el teléfono *‘you’ve broken the telephone “on us”’ would be avoided in both languages. (e) A direct object followed by an indirect object, as in ¡qué borde te nos has puesto! ‘how unpleasant you’ve made yourself for us!’/‘you’ve really become unpleasant towards us!’ (1) The combination of two direct object pronouns is not possible in Spanish and is awkward in English, cf. ?‘he was declared president, and after they declared him it, he went on to . . .’, which would have to be recast in Spanish: después de que lo/le nombraran presidente, pasó a . . .. This constraint on the use of direct object pronouns in Spanish clarifies the difference between passive and impersonal se. See 32.5.2. (2) For the impossibility of **lo y la vi for ‘I saw him and her’, see 14.2.4 note 4.

152 Personal pronouns, object

14.6 Object pronouns with verbs of motion and with ser and resultar 14.6.1  Object pronouns with verbs of motion Object pronouns are not used when mere physical arrival or approach is involved: voy a la reunión—voy allí (not *le voy) ‘I’m going to the meeting’ – ‘I’m going to it’, se acercó a la mesa > se acercó a ella, not ?*se le acercó. todo el occidente que vino a nosotros . . . the whole of the west (i.e. western   (MVLl, Pe.)    world) which came to us . . . Suele recurrir a él cuando no le queda (S)he usually turns to him when (s)he   más remedio   has no alternative ¿Cómo piensan la universidad los que What do those who go to it think of   acuden a ella? (La Jornada, Mex. A rare    university? (i.e. what do students think of    transitive) use of pensar)   university?) However, exceptions occur colloquially with the following verbs, particularly if the verb is third person: Él se le acercó por la espalda (JMs, Sp.) He approached her from behind Ella se le reunió al doblar la esquina (LG, Sp.) She caught up with him as she turned        the corner No te le acerques (EP, Mex., dialogue) Don’t go near him No sólo los sollozos de los niños se alzaron Not only did the children’s sobs    entonces, sino que se les unieron los de    ring out, but the servants’   los sirvientes (JD, Ch.)    sobbing was added to it (1)  This construction is rare in the first and second persons: se le opuso ‘(s)he opposed him/her’ for se opuso a él is possible, but te opusiste a él ‘you opposed him’ rather than ?te le opusiste. Firstand second-person forms are more common in Latin America, especially Mexico (J. Lope Blanch, 1991, 20), so one quite often finds sentences like te ruego que te nos incorpores (for . . . que te incorpores a nosotros) ‘I’m asking you to join us’. (2)  Se le puso delante, se me puso delante ‘(s)he stood in front of him/her’, ‘(s)he/you stood in front of me’ frequently occur colloquially for se puso delante de él/se puso delante de mí, and are more dramatic in tone. (3)  Important: the example above from JD (José Donoso – se les unieron . . .) unusually breaks the rule that object pronouns are not used with such verbs when the sentence refers to non-human things. The normal construction would be se unieron a ellos. Donoso’s example may be a case of personification, in which case the les is explicable. (4)  Object pronouns are used with llegar, venirse and venir con when their object is human: cuando me llegó la noticia de su triunfo . . . ‘when news of his/her/your triumph reached me . . .’, el armario se le vino encima ‘the cupboard/US closet collapsed on him/her/you’, a mí no me venga usted con cuentos porque yo todo lo sé (ABE, Pe., dialogue) ‘don’t come to me with stories because I know all about it’. (5)  In le viene a decir que . . . ‘(s)he’s coming to tell him/her that . . .’ the le belongs to the decir: viene a decirle que . . . In le viene bien ‘it suits him/her’ and ¿qué tal te va? ‘how are things going’/‘how’re you doing?’, advantage, not motion, is involved.

14.6  Object pronouns with verbs of motion and with ser and resultar


14.6.2  Pronouns with ser, resultar and adjectives This section covers the difficult question of why one can say esta herramienta me es útil ‘this tool is useful to me’ but not *esta casa me es oscura? ‘this house is dark to me’. English has similar complications: why can one say ‘she was always kind to me’ but not *‘she was always shy to me’ (for . . . always shy with me’)? Ser + an object pronoun is possible only with certain kinds of adjective: Nos era imprescindible contactar a tus padres We absolutely had to contact your parents Le era más fácil soportar los dolores ajenos It was easier for him to put up with   que los propios (GGM, Col.)    other people’s suffering than his own Voy a serle muy franca (ABE, Pe., dialogue) I’m going to be very frank with you Para serte sincero me repele Lombardo Toledano To be honest with you, Lombardo Toledano   (EP, Mex., dialogue)    repels me The following list shows some other adjective that can take object pronouns with ser: agradable/desagradable   agreeable/ disagreeable ajeno strange conocido/desconocido   known/unknown doloroso painful fácil/difícil easy/difficult familiar familiar favorable favourable fiel/infiel faithful/unfaithful

grato/ingrato pleasing/   displeasing indiferente indifferent leal loyal lícito permitted natural natural necesario/innecesario   necessary/unnecessary permitido/prohibido   allowed/prohibited

posible/imposible possible/   impossible rentable profitable sabido known simpático/antipático nice/    nasty (of persons) sincero, franco sincere, frank suficiente/insuficiente   sufficient útil/inútil useful/useless

The problem is made more complicated by the existence of two other Spanish verbs, resultar andquedar(se), that can also be used with object pronouns and adjectives as in le resultaba barato ‘it seemed cheap to her/him’, pero me ha quedado claro que tendrás lo que quieras ‘but it’s clear to me that you’ll get what you want’ (LS, Sp., dialogue). Quedar(se) is discussed in more detail at 30.7.33, and resultar is discussed further at 31.3.7. Examples of the use of resultar with adjectives and object pronouns: Me resulta muy triste la situación que I find the situation he’s living through very   está viviendo (Excélsior, Mex., not me es . . .)   sad . . . un gesto que siempre me resulta llamativo . . . a gesture that I always find striking   (LS, Sp.) Me resulta difícil y absurdamente arriesgado I find it difficult and absurdly risky to buy    comprar algo para quien conozco poco    something for someone I don’t know well   (CP, Arg.) . . . envuelta en una sábana, pues ahora su . . . wrapped in a sheet because she now   desnudez le resultaba insoportable (ES, Mex.)    found her nakedness unbearable The following are adjectives that often appear in the construction object pronoun + resultar + adjective: aburrido boring apropiado appropriate atractivo attractive caro expensive cómodo comfortable

conveniente suitable divertido amusing emocionante exciting evidente evident familiar familiar

gracioso funny imposible impossible insólito unusual inteligible intelligible interesante interesting

154 Personal pronouns, object molesto bothersome peligroso dangerous

pesado annoying pintoresco picturesque

sorprendente surprising sospechoso suspicious

Some of these adjectives can also be used with ser, e.g. me era/resultaba imposible/familiar/lejano ‘I found it impossible/familiar/distant’, etc. The difference between these adjectives and those that can appear in the construction me/te/le/ nos/os/les. + ser + adjective seems to be that ser is used with adjectives that involve a higher level of personal emotional involvement, e.g. leal ‘loyal’, fiel ‘faithful’, sincere ‘sincere’. But we admit that it is often very difficult to explain why some phrases, e.g. les era útil ‘it was useful for them’ sound correct and others, like *me es emocionante sound wrong whereas me resulta emocionante ‘I find it exciting’ is normal. (1)  Many adjectives can also be constructed with para: ¿tan difícil te es vivir conmigo? (ABV, Sp., dialogue) or ¿tan difícil es para ti vivir conmigo? ‘is it so hard for you to live with me?’, es conveniente para ellos/les resulta conveniente ‘it’s suitable for/to them’ (2)  The nuance conveyed by resultar is often almost untranslatable. Compare es feo = ‘it/he’s ugly’ and resulta feo ‘the effect is ugly’/‘he/it is ugly as a result’; also el Senador resultó más tímido de lo que esperaba ‘the Senator turned out to be shyer than she had expected’ (ES, Mex.). See 31.3.7 for more details.

14.6.3  Ser and resultar plus object pronouns and nouns: Si le es molestia, dígamelo If it’s a nuisance for you, tell me Nos es de interés . . . It’s of interest to us . . . Me/Le era un gran placer/Era un gran placer It was a great pleasure for/to me/him, etc. También tu hermano resultó un traidor Your brother turned out to be a traitor too    (ES, Mex., dialogue) Mujeres rubias que al final resultaron ser Blond women who eventually turned   también hombres rubios (APR, Sp.)    out to be blond men as well La salina resultó un buen negocio (MVLl, Pe.) The salt mine/salt works turned out to be    a good business Pues atrévase a contarla . . .. Resultaría una Well, have the courage to tell it [la   gran novela (CMG, Sp., dialogue)    . . . . historia]. It would make a great novel (1)  Spanish does not allow a pronominal construction in translations of sentences like ‘I was always a good mother to him’: siempre fui una buena madre para él (not *siempre le fui . . .).

14.7  ‘Resumptive’ lo with ser, estar, parecer and hay The predicate of ser, estar and parecer is echoed or resumed by lo: —Parece buena la tierra desde aquí—. Lo es. ‘“The land looks good from here.” “It is.”’ This construction is discussed at 8.4.2. For lo hay, los hay/las hay, etc., see 34.2.2.

14.8  Object pronouns used to denote personal involvement Object pronouns may simply show that a person is emotionally affected, as in the indignant Frenchman’s regardez-moi ça! ‘just look at that for me!’. Usually the effect is untranslatable into standard English, but popular English sometimes uses ‘on me’, ‘on you’, etc., to include the person affected: se me han ido de casa ‘they’ve left home “on me”’, se le ha averiado el coche ‘his/her car’s broken down “on him/her”’:

14.9 ‘The Rule of Two L’s’


Pues, yo eché a una porque me fumaba y Well, I fired one [maid] because she   ahora tengo otra que, además de fumar,    smoked ‘on me’ and now I’ve got another   me bebe (EA, Sp., dialogue, colloquial)    who not only smokes but drinks ‘on me’ Los alumnos se me habían largado a una The students had gone off to   manifestación (ABE, Pe., dialogue),    a demonstration ¿No estará pensando embalsamarnos al You aren’t thinking of having the   Presidente . . .? (I A, Ch., dialogue)    President embalmed for us? Mi suegra compró un reloj y al mes no le My mother-in-law bought a watch and   caminaba (AA, Cu., dialogue; Sp. no le    a month later it didn’t work (‘on her’)   funcionaba) ¡Me le has estropeado tres camisas! You’ve spoilt three of his shirts for me!   (popular style) Cuídenme mucho a este niño (EP, Mex.) Look after this child well for me Péiname a la niña Do the little girl’s hair for me (1)  This device of including an emotionally involved person is used more in parts of Latin America than in Spain. Me le pintaste la mesa ‘you painted the table for him/her for me’ is acceptable for some Latin-American speakers, but, with some exceptions, European Spanish tends to avoid clusters of two indirect object pronouns. See 14.5. (2)  If the person involved is in the third person, le or les must be used, not lo/la/los/las: se le murió un hijo ‘one of his/her children/sons died’.

14.9  ‘The Rule of Two L’s’ 14.9.1  Replacement of le by se Important: two pronouns beginning with l cannot stand side by side. The le or les must be replaced by se: le doy ‘I give to him/her/you’ + lo ‘it’ > se lo doy ‘I give it to him/her/you’, never *le lo doy: Quiero dárselo I want to give it to him/her/you/them Se lo dije a ella I told it to her Se lo dije a ellos I told it to them (masc.) ¿Quiere usted que se lo envuelva? Do you want me to wrap it for you? Anne quiso ayudarnos con la maleta . . . Anne wanted to help us with the suitcase.   No se lo permitimos (JH, Mex., dialogue)    We didn’t let her (1)  This phenomenon, which has no counterpart in French, Italian or Portuguese, is sometimes explained by the ‘ugliness’ of too many l’s. This explanation is implausible, but it reminds ­students that in Spanish two object pronouns beginning with l can never stand side by side. Thisis a very strong rule, observed throughout the Spanish-speaking world in all styles of language.

14.9.2 Latin-American se los for se lo The combination se + neuter lo is very ambiguous. Se lo dije may mean ‘I told it to him, to her, to you (usted)’, ‘to them’ (ellos or ellas) or ‘to you’ (ustedes)’. A él/ella/usted/ellos/ellas/ustedes may be added if context does not make the issue clear: se lo dije a ustedes ‘I told you’, etc. There is a very widespread tendency in Latin America to show that se stands for les by pluralizing the direct object pronoun, i.e. se los dije, for se lo dije a ellos/ellas ‘I told it to them’:

156 Personal pronouns, object A un policía le había gustado más bien poco One policeman really didn’t like    la gracia y se los había dicho (JC, Arg.,    the joke and told them so   dialogue, for se lo había dicho) Si eso es cierto es un pecado y If that’s so, then it’s a sin and I will   se los voy a prohibir (GZ, Mex., dialogue)    forbid them to do it DeMello (1992), 1, reports that in Mexico City this construction is of about equal frequency in educated and uneducated speech and it is on the way to being accepted as correct throughout Latin America; but it is less common in Lima, La Paz and a few other places. This construction is not used in Spain where only se lo is possible in this context.

14.10  Redundant object pronouns Spanish constantly uses object pronouns even when the thing they refer to is already named by a noun. In this respect, it is very different from French and English. Some of these redundant pronouns are virtually obligatory; others are more typical of informal styles.

14.10.1 Redundant object pronouns when the objects precede theverb If, for purposes of emphasis or focus, a direct or indirect object precedes a verb, a redundant pronoun is obligatory except in the cases mentioned in note 1. Compare compré esta casa hace cinco años and esta casa la compré hace cinco años ‘I bought this house five years ago’. Examples: Eso no me lo negarás El dinero me lo llevo yo (CF, Mex., dialogue) A alguno de vosotros os quisiera ver    yo en un buen fregado (DS, Sp. dialogue)

You won’t deny me that I’m taking the money with me I’d like to see one of you in a real mess

(1)  Important: redundant pronouns are not used with indefinite direct objects, i.e. by ones not accompanied by el/la/los/las, este/ese/aquel, or some word meaning ‘my’, ‘your’, ‘her’, etc.: muchaprisa ha debido tener ‘(s)he must have been in a hurry’, carne no como ‘meat I don’t eat!’, aviones tenemos aquí que han costado millones ‘we’ve got planes here that cost millions . . .’, ¡cuántas tonterías dices! ‘what a lot of nonsense you talk!’; but los libros los dejo aquí ‘I’ll leave the books here’. Use of las in the following example would be incorrect: —¿compraste flores? — Sí, compré (GDLE 24.2.1, not las compré) ‘“Did you buy flowers?” “Yes, I did”’ (las compré answers ¿compraste las flores?). GDLE and 5.5 notes that sentences like ?fiebre no la tiene are heard in northern dialects in Spain. A numeral on its own does not always make a noun definite: mil euros te doy por el cuadro ‘I’ll give you 1000 euros for the painting’, but, usually, los mil euros te los doy ‘I’ll give you the thousand euros’. (2)  The redundant pronoun is not used after eso in such phrases as eso creo yo ‘that’s what I think’, eso digo yo ‘that’s what I think’ (but compare eso lo digo yo ‘that’s what I say’). (3)  For a discussion of the effect of putting the object before the verb see Chapter 42, especially 42.9.2.

14.10  Redundant object pronouns


14.10.2  Redundant pronouns and indirect objects When an indirect object follows a verb, a redundant pronoun is also very frequently used: Bueno, si no le dicen a uno cómo hay que hacerlo Well, if they don’t tell one how to do it . . . Esta solución le pareció a doña Matilde la This solution seemed to be the best   más acertada (JMG, Sp.)    one to Doña Matilde Se le notan cada vez más los años a José You can tell José’s age more and more Les tenía mucho miedo a los truenos (S)he was very frightened of thunder No le ha dicho nada a su madre (GZ, Mex., He hasn’t told his mother anything   dialogue) Tráigale un jugo de naranja a la niña Bring the girl an orange juice   (AM, Mex., dialogue. Jugo = meat juice   in Spain; el zumo = fruit juice) (1)  Absence of the redundant pronoun in such cases depersonalizes the indirect object and would be natural in official documents or business letters when a formal tone is required: escriba una carta al Ministerio de Hacienda ‘write a letter to the Ministry of Finance’, El gobierno no ocultará al Papa Francisco los problemas internos del país (UnoMásUno, Mex.) ‘the Government will not conceal the internal problems of the country from Pope Francis’, esto no corresponde a Odradek (JLB, Arg. Odradek is a non-human creature) ‘this is not a trait of Odradek’s’; es necesario dar cera a este tipo de suelo todas las semanas ‘this type of floor must be waxed every week’. In most other cases the redundant pronoun is used, more so than 50 years ago and almost always with proper names: dáselo a Mario ‘Give it to Mario’, se lo robaron a Muriel ‘they stole it from Muriel’ (robar a . . . ‘to steal from . . .’). However, the redundant pronoun is sometimes omitted with other nouns for stylistic reasons, cf. una forma estudiada de acentuar la ironía que gusta a todas las mujeres (JM, Sp.) ‘a studied way of emphasizing the irony that all women like’, where les gusta a las mujeres is less literary; or todo lo que sobra de esta mañana lo podés dar a las gallinas (MP, Arg., dialogue; or se lo podés dar a las gallinas. Spain puedes for the vos form podés) ‘you can give the chickens everything left over from this morning’. The GDLE, 19.4.1, says that omission is very rare, although slightly more frequent with decir and dar. (2)  This rule does not apply – at least in Spain – to direct objects that follow the verb as in Ana vio a Julia ‘Ana saw Julia’. See 14.10.4.

14.10.3  Le for redundant les There is a strong tendency in spontaneous language everywhere to use the singular le in this construction for the plural les. DeMello (1992), 2, reports that in Latin America it is equally common with non-human and humans, but Peninsular informants generally reported it as less acceptable with humans: Cualquiera le da vuelta a las razones por las Anyone might ponder on the reasons    que te viniste conmigo (JMG. Sp., dialogue)    why you came to me no darle importancia a los detalles not to ascribe importance to details ¿Quieres devolverle la isla de Manhattan a Do you want to give Manhattan Island   los Algonquins? (CF, Mex., dialogue)    back to the Algonquins? ?Le viene natural a los niños (educated It comes naturally to children   Spaniard, overheard) Quiero dejarle un México mejor I want to leave a better Mexico to    a mis nietos (EP, Mex., dialogue)    my grandchildren

158 Personal pronouns, object (1)  Sentences like él les (for le) da mucha importancia a las apariencias ‘(s)he ascribes a lot of importance to appearances’ may sound odd to some speakers. But use of the singular le for les is technically ‘wrong’, and should be avoided in formal writing – e.g. in this sentence by omitting the redundant pronoun altogether.

14.10.4  Redundant direct object pronouns As was said at 14.10.1, a redundant pronoun is usually obligatory when a direct object precedes the verb, as in las flores las compré ayer ‘I bought the flowers yesterday’. When the direct object follows the verb, use of a redundant object pronoun is common with todo: ahora me lo tienes que contar todo ‘now you have to tell me everything’. It is also required when it is necessary to reinforce an object pronoun, e.g. la vi a ella pero no a él ‘I saw her but not him’ (not *vi a ella). In other cases use of a redundant pronoun with direct objects is generally avoided in Spain, but it is common in Latin America in spontaneous speech and also in written language in Argentina: Le quiere mucho a ese hijo (Spain, familiar) Morgan también lo mandó llamar a   Abdulmalik (JLB, Arg.,  dialogue;    Sp . . ..mandó llamar a Abdulmalik) No lo conocen a Perón en Córdoba, lo    confunden con un cantante de tangos   (JA, Arg., dialogue; Sp. no conocen) Convénzalo a su amigo de que acepte la   beca (MVLl, Pe., dialogue; Sp. convenza    a su amigo . . .)

(S)he loves that son a lot Morgan also had Abdulmalik sent for They’ve never heard of Perón in Cordoba.    They confuse him with a tango singer Persuade your friend to accept the grant

This is less usual, but not unknown, with non-human direct objects.

14.10.5  Redundant pronouns in relative clauses Redundant pronouns occur in spoken Spanish in relative clauses to ‘resume’ or echo a direct or indirect object relative pronoun, especially in non-restrictive clauses (see ‘restrictive’ in the Glossary), and they may appear in writing, particularly if several words separate the que and the verb that depends on it: Los gramáticos aconsejan muchas cosas que Grammarians recommend lots of   nadie las dice (Sp., informant)    things that no one says Te voy a hacer una confesión que nunca me I’m going to make you a confession I   animé a hacerla a nadie (Latin-American,    never had the courage to make to   from Kany, 150)   anybody Sólo por ti dejaría a don Memo a quien tanto Only for you would I leave Don   le debo (CF, Mex., dialogue)    Memo, whom I owe so much DeMello (1992), 4, shows that the construction is very widespread, even in quite formal speech in Spain and Latin America, but it may sound uneducated to some, especially in restrictive clauses (the first two examples), and it is best left to native speakers.

15 Le/les and lo/la/los/las The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • •

Basic rules for choice between lo/la/los/las and le/les (Section 15.2) The uses of le/les as an indirect object pronoun (Section 15.3) The uses of lo/la/los/las as direct object pronouns (Section 15.4) The le/lo controversy and regional variants (Section 15.5) Use of le/les as direct object pronouns in standard Spanish everywhere (Sections 15.6–10)

This chapter is devoted exclusively to the problem of the relationship between the third-person object pronouns le/les and lo/la/los/las. For first- and second-person pronouns (including usted and ustedes) and for third-person subject pronouns (él, ella, ellos, ellos), see Chapter 12.

15.1 The le/lo controversy: summary of the arguments contained in this chapter The rules governing the correct choice of third-person object pronouns vary a great deal in everyday spoken language throughout the Spanish-speaking world: the 80 pages that the GDLE devotes to the subject reveal that spoken usage sometimes even differs between places less than 50 kilometres apart. However, the situation in the written language is fairly stable, and can be summarized (albeit somewhat over-simplified) as follows: the pronoun used for third-person direct objects, human and non-human, in more than 90 per cent of the Spanish-speaking world is lo/la for the singular and los/las for the plural. Le and les are used for indirect objects as defined at 14.2.2 and 15.3. This scheme is recommended for learners because it usually produces acceptable sentences on both continents. However, there are exceptions to the above rule – some of them important. They are discussed below in Sections 15.5 and 15.6–10.

15.2 Third-person object pronouns: basic rules Beginners can apply the following scheme, valid for all of Latin America and acceptable to, though not necessarily preferred by, most Spaniards. These rules will produce correct sentences in over 90 per cent of cases.

160 Le/les and lo/la/los/las Third-person object pronouns Direct object

Indirect object

SINGULAR Masculine




le le PLURAL







The following sentences exemplify these rules: Ángela vio a Antonio Angela saw Antonio Antonio vio a Ángela Antonio saw Angela Vio el libro (S)he saw the book Vio la casa (S)he saw the house María dijo hola a Juan María said hello to   Juan Juan dijo hola a María Juan said hello to   María Vio a los hombres (S)he saw the men Vio a las mujeres (S)he saw the women Vio los libros (S)he saw the books Vio las casas (S)he saw the houses Dijo hola a María y a José (S)he said hello to    María and José Dijo hola a María y a Ángela (S)he said hello    to Maria and Angela

Lo vio She saw him La vio He saw her Lo vio (S)he saw it La vio (S)he saw it Le dijo hola She said hello to him Le dijo hola He said hello to her Los vio (S)he saw them Las vio (S)he saw them Los vio (S)he saw them Las vio (S)he saw them Les dijo hola (S)he said hello to them Les dijo hola (S)he said hello to them

(1)  European Spanish, especially in central and northern areas, prefers the form le for a singular human male direct object: le vi ‘I saw him’: see 15.5.1 for details. (2)  Important: usted and ustedes ‘you’ (polite) takes third-person object pronouns: lo vi ayer ‘I saw him/it/you yesterday’, le vi ayer (Spain) ‘I saw you (masc.)/him yesterday’, la vi ayer ‘I saw you/ her yesterday’ (fem.), los vi ayer ‘I saw them/you yesterday’, las vi ayer ‘I saw them/you (fem.)/ yesterday’. This possibility that a third-person object pronoun may also refer to usted(es) must be borne in mind since it is not systematically shown in the translations in this book.

15.3  Use of le/les as ‘indirect object’ pronouns: detailedrules Le/les are often described as third-person ‘indirect object’ pronouns (pronombres de complemento indirecto). But ‘indirect object’ is a term that covers many meanings in Spanish, and the basic principle underlying the use of le/les is that le/les can replace any person or thing gaining from or losing by the action described in the verb phrase. As we have said more than once elsewhere, in English an indirect object can only gain or receive: we cannot say *‘they stole him fifty dollars’ but le robaron cincuenta dólares is good Spanish. Whatever departures from these examples they may hear, foreign students are advised to use le/les in the following contexts:

15.3  Use of le/les as ‘indirect object’ pronouns: detailedrules


List A: Typical uses of le/les (In the translations, ‘you’ appears as a reminder that lo/los/la/las and le/les can refer to usted or ustedes as well as to ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘it’ or them’.) (a)  Receiving or acquiring any thing, impression or sensation Le di/mandé la carta No les dije la verdad Le tirábamos bolas de nieve Le pusieron una inyección Esa chaqueta le va La secretaria le cayó bien Les gusta la miel

I gave/sent her/him/you the letter I didn’t tell you/them the truth We were throwing snowballs at him/her/you They gave you/him/her an injection That jacket suits him/her/you (S)he took a liking to the secretary They/You like honey

and also words meaning ‘to happen to’, e.g. suceder, acontecer, sobrevenir, pasar: les sobrevino una tragedia ‘they/you suffered a tragedy’, no le pasó nada ‘nothing happened to him/her/you’. (b)  Loss or removal from Les han robado un millón de pesos They’ve stolen a million pesos from them/you Le están sacando una muela They’re taking one of her/his teeth out Se le cae el pelo His/Her hair’s falling out Se le pasa pronto (S)he gets over it quickly/You get over . . . No le puedo aceptar tanto dinero I can’t accept so much money from   you/him/her Also, in Latin America, recibir: desolado porque esta/ésta no aceptó recibirle el presente de amor (popular press, Ch.) ‘distraught because she refused to accept the love gift from him’, Sp . . ..esta/ésta se negó a aceptarle el regalo de amor. (c)  Sufficiency, insufficiency, lack, excess Les basta decir que sí All they/you have to do is say ‘yes’ Le faltan mil pesos (S)he’s/You’re 1000 pesos short Veinte dólares al día le alcanzaban para vivir (S)he/you were managing to live on 20    dollars a day El traje de Marco le está grande Marco’s suit is too big for him (d)  Requesting, requiring, ordering Le hicieron varias preguntas They asked him/her/you several questions Les pidieron nuestras señas They asked them/you for our names and   addresses Les rogaron que se sentasen/sentaran They/You requested them/you to sit down Les ordenamos rendirse We ordered them/you to surrender Compare le mandó que comprara/comprase pan ‘(s)he ordered her/him to buy bread’ and la mandó a comprar pan ‘(s)he sent her to buy bread’. (e)  Numerous phrases involving tener plus an emotion: Le(s) tengo miedo a los murciélagos (see 14.10.3) Ana le tiene ojeriza Le tenías un cariño tremendo

I’m afraid of bats Ana has it in for him/her/you You were enormously fond of her/him

162 Le/les and lo/la/los/las (f)  Numerous set phrases consisting of hacer plus a noun El frío les hacía mucho daño The cold did them/you a lot of harm El chico le hizo una mueca The boy pulled a face at him/her/you No les hacíamos el menor caso We didn’t give them/you the slightest   attention Tienes que hacerle frente a la realidad You have to face up to reality Le hacía falta reflexionar (S)he/You needed to reflect (g)  To indicate persons or things affected by something done to a part of their body or to some intimate possession. For further details about this construction and for the omission of the possessive adjective with parts of the body and intimate possessions, see 9.3.4: ¡Le estás pisando los pies! A esa edad se les ablanda el cerebro Tú no le viste los zapatos que llevaba

You’re treading on his/her feet! Their brains go soft at that age You didn’t see the shoes (s)he was wearing

(h)  In a number of less easily classified cases which may all be seen to convey ideas of ‘giving’, ‘removing’, ‘benefiting’, ‘involving’, ‘affecting intimately’ ¿Qué le vamos a hacer? No le hace (Southern Cone; Sp.   no viene a cuento) ¡Dale! ¡Y dale con el tema! No le oigo nada Le agradezco La respuesta del abogado le afectó mucho   (see 15.6 for more on this use of le)

What can be done about it? That’s irrelevant Hit him!/Go on!/Get moving! Oh no, not again! (i.e. we heard it before) I can’t hear a thing (s)he’s saying I thank you The lawyer’s reply affected him/her a lot

This multiplicity of meanings can give rise to ambiguities: le compré un vestido ‘I bought a dress from her/for her’, Ángel les robó una manzana ‘Ángel stole an apple from/for them/you’. Context nearly always makes the sense plain, or the sentence can be recast: compró una calculadora para él ‘(s)he bought a calculator for him’, etc.

15.4  Uses of lo/la/los/las Lo/la/los/las are the third-person ‘direct object’ pronouns, ‘direct’ object understood here as the person or thing directly affected by a verb phrase but not ‘losing’ or ‘gaining’ in the ways described in List A above. List B: Contexts normally requiring lo/la/los/las (direct object) The use of lo for human males in this list reflects standard Latin-American usage. The secondofthealternative forms reflects widespread, preferred, but not obligatory usage in mostofSpain:see 15.5.1 for discussion. ‘You’ in the translation reflects the possibility of usted/ ustedes. (a)  Direct physical actions (although there are a few exceptions, like le pega ‘(s)he beats him/her’; see 15.6.4): Lo/Le interrogaron La operaron Coge estos papeles y quémalos

They interrogated him/you They operated on her/you Take these papers and burn them

15.5 The le/lo controversy: general remarks


A usted lo durmieron con algún They put you to sleep with some potion in    mejunje en la sidra (JLB, Arg., dialogue;    the cider   Sp. le or lo) (b)  Verbs of perception, e.g. ‘seeing’, ‘hearing’, ‘knowing’, etc. Al director no lo/le conozco La vi ayer en el mercado El padre lo miraba con orgullo (IA, Sp., or le) A uno de ellos lo identifiqué   enseguida (JM, Sp., or le)

I don’t know the director I saw her/you yesterday in the market His father gazed at him with pride I identified one of them immediately

(c)  Praise, blame, admiration, love, hatred and other actions denoting attitudes towards a person or thing: Sus profesores lo/le alaban A las monjas las envidio mucho Su marido la adora Yo la quiero mucho

His/her/your teachers praise him/you I envy nuns a lot Her/Your husband adores her/you I love her/you a lot

For some speakers lo quieren = ‘they want him/you/it’, le quieren = ‘they love him/you’. (d)  ‘Naming’, ‘nominating’, ‘describing’ (but see 15.6.4 for the verb llamar): Los denominaron “los decadentes” They named them/you ‘the decadents’ Lo/Le nombraron alcalde They nominated him/you mayor Las describió en términos cariñosos (S)he described them/you (fem.) in   affectionate terms Lo calificó de éxito (S)he described it as a success (1)  Lo/la/los/las agree in gender with the noun they stand for. If there is no gendered noun, lo is used: dijo que llegaría a las siete, pero no lo creo ‘(s)he said (s)he’d arrive at seven, but I don’t believe it’, esto no lo aguanta nadie ‘no one can stand this’. This neuter use of lo is discussed at 8.4. (2)  The first- and second-person pronouns me/te/nos/os could be used in any of the above sentences in place of the third-person pronoun, provided the result makes sense.

15.5 The le/lo controversy: general remarks The use of le/les as direct object pronouns has always been controversial. Beginners may follow the scheme given in 15.2, but they will come across at least some of the variants described hereafter. Some of these are dialect, but some are basic features of certain varieties of Spanish and foreigners can use them. Section 15.5 describes regional variations. Sections 15.6–10 describes certain subtleties in the use of le and lo found in the best written and spoken Spanish.

15.5.1  Le for lo in Spain: further details Important: the most prestigious styles in Spain, i.e. the variety used in publishing, in most media, and by most speakers in central and northern Spain, favours le vi for lo vi when the sentence means ‘I saw him’ as opposed to ‘I saw it’: —¿Has visto a Miguel? —No, no le he visto ‘Have you seen Miguel?’ ‘No, I haven’t seen   him’ —¿Has visto mi lápiz? —No, no lo he visto ‘Have you seen my pencil?’ ‘No, I haven’t   seen it’

164 Le/les and lo/la/los/las (1)  The Academy has itself changed its mind about this phenomenon more than once in the last 150 years and now accepts this use of le. Students may hear some Spaniards claim that lo vi applied to a human male sounds vaguely regional. They will also note much inconsistency in Spain in the use of le or lo with reference to human males, lo being more frequent in the South and not uncommon elsewhere. El País (Libro de estilo 2014, 13.3.4), accepts the use of le for human male direct objects but prefers lo because it is used throughout the Spanish-speaking world except northern and central Spain – though even here lo is commonly heard. (2)  This use of le for lo usually sounds incorrect to Latin Americans, but Sections 15.6.1–5 will show that, although less common, the use of le in Latin America for human direct objects is in fact more widespread than is often claimed. (3)  It is surprising that feminists have not been more irritated by the fact that in the leísta system of central and northern Spain only males are exalted above non-living masculine objects by the use of le instead of lo. La vi means both ‘I saw her’ and ‘I saw it’.

15.5.2  Les for los in Spain Use of les for los, e.g. les vi for los vi ‘I saw them’ (masc. or masc. and fem.) is very common in Spain when the pronoun refers to human males, but it is not recommended by the Academy (NGLE 16.8j). Careful writers use los in sentences like los vi ‘I saw them’, but use of les in such contexts is so common in Spain in speech and writing that foreign students need not worry too much about the rule: les (for los) llevaron a una casa donde estuvieron encerrados mucho rato (JB, Spain) ‘they took them to a house where they were locked in for a long time’, la colonización les explotó (PLE, Spain) ‘colonization exploited them’, hay mucha evidencia circunstancial y comentarios de gente que les conocía mucho (RM, Sp.) ‘there is plenty of circumstantial evidence and comments from people who knew them well’.

15.5.3  Le for la in Spain: regional usage Speakers from north and north-western Spain, especially Navarre and the Basque provinces, often use le and les for female human direct objects as well as for males: le vi = both ‘I saw him’ and ‘I saw her’, les vi = ‘I saw them (females)’ but lo vi (masc.) and la vi (fem.) = ‘I saw it’. This usage sometimes appears in literature but the Academy disapproves of it (DPD 393) and foreign learners should avoid it. The same phenomenon is sporadically heard elsewhere, e.g. in Valencia and in Paraguay.

15.5.4  La for le (a ella) in Spain (laísmo) People from central Spain, including Madrid, may use la for the indirect object pronoun to refer to a female: ?Yo la dije la verdad (for yo le dije la verdad) ?Yo la alabo el gusto (MD, Sp., dialogue,   for yo le alabo el gusto)

I told her the truth I praise her taste

Schoolteachers have waged war for years on this type of laísmo and the Academy rejects it (NGLE 16.10c). Foreigners should avoid it.

15.6  Le used for human direct objects throughout the Spanish-speaking world


15.5.5  Lo for le in Latin America Extreme loísmo, i.e. use of lo for the indirect object, is reported in popular speech in many parts of Latin America: Kany, 137, cites from Guatemala ya no tarda en llegar. ¿Quiere hablarlo? ‘he won’t be long now. Do you want to speak to him?’ (for hablarle). The same phenomenon is occasionally heard in dialects in Spain, but it should not be imitated.

15.5.6  Le for lo/la applied to inanimate objects in Spain In familiar speech in Madrid, in Quito, Ecuador, and in pre-twentieth-century texts, one finds le used as the direct object pronoun even for inanimate nouns: ?no le he leído todavía ‘I haven’t read it [el libro] yet’, ?unos niegan el hecho, otros le afirman ‘some deny the fact, others assert it’ (B. Feijoo, Sp., mid-eighteenthth century, for lo afirman). This construction is nowadays stigmatized.

15.6 Le used for human direct objects throughout the Spanish-speaking world Even when all the regional and dialectal factors are taken into account, le is nevertheless quite often used as a direct object pronoun in the best styles in Spain where la/las would be expected, and in Latin America where either lo/los or la/las would be expected. This can been seen from the translation of the following sentences, in both of which ‘her’ is the direct object of ‘flattered’: (a) ‘he flattered her’, (b) ‘the joke flattered her’. We expect the Spanish translations to be (a) él la halagó, (b) la broma la halagó, and this is what many native speakers accept. However, many speakers, Spanish and Latin-American, translate (b) as la broma le halagó, this being the more common form in educated speech. As a result, although the rules for the use of le/les already given at 15.3 and the rules for lo/la/los/las given at 15.2 and 15.4 will enable foreign learners to form sentences that are acceptable to the majority of native speakers, they do not always explain the day-to-day use of these pronouns.

15.6.1  Le to denote respect (le de cortesía) In certain areas some speakers use le for human direct objects as a mark of respect. Spaniards who say lo vi for ‘I saw him’ may prefer le vi for the usted form ‘I saw you’. Argentine informants were convinced that they would say no quería molestarle ‘I didn’t mean to bother you’ when speaking to their boss, but molestarlo when speaking about him; the GDLE 24.5 reports the phenomenon in Chile, Venezuela and Ecuador. Colombian informants said molestarlo in both cases. (1)  García (1975) reports that some speakers in Buenos Aires see a difference between le llevaron al hospital and lo llevaron al hospital ‘they took him to the hospital’, the former implying that the patient was walking or co-operative, the latter that he was carried; and it seems that some Spaniards also accept the distinction. For Colombian informants only lo llevaron was possible and leísta Spaniards would usually say only le llevaron in both cases.

15.6.2  Le/les preferred when the subject of the verb is inanimate Le or les are often the preferred direct object pronouns in Spain and Latin America when they denote a human being and the subject of the verb is non-living. Compare the following sentences: la espera su marido ‘her husband’s waiting for her’ and le espera una catástrofe ‘a catastrophe awaits her/him’. Le is most often used when the human direct object is reacting emotionally, as in sentences like ‘it surprised him’, ‘it shocked her’.

166 Le/les and lo/la/los/las The phenomenon is vividly illustrated in this Peruvian sentence where le reflects a lifeless subject (a tooth) with a human direct object, but the lo reflects both a human subject, the dentist, and a human direct object: si [la muela] le molesta mucho, lo puedo atender hoy mismo (from Variedades, 238) ‘if it [the tooth] is troubling you a lot, I can attend to you today’. Further examples: Le amargaba la idea de haber estrangulado She was embittered by the idea of having   las palabras que estaba a punto de    choked back (lit. ‘strangled’) the words   dirigirle (CC, Sp.)    that she was about to say to him Él se miraba la sangre que le había He looked at the blood that had spattered   salpicado (MVLl, Pe.)   him Sin embargo, le molestaba encararse con Yet it troubled him to come face to face   Parodi (JLB, Arg.)    with Parodi Le encantaría recibirlo en su casa (ES, Mex., He’d be delighted to receive you at his home   dialogue) The following pairs further illustrate the rule: La angustia le acompañaba siempre Yo la acompañaba siempre

Anguish went with her/him always I always went with her

A Consuelo le admiró que no contestase A Consuelo la admiro mucho

It surprised Consuelo that he did not reply I admire Consuelo a great deal

Le alcanzan mil euros para vivir No pude alcanzarla

1000 euros are enough for him/her to live on I couldn’t catch up with her

El gas les hace reír Yo los haré reír

The gas makes them laugh I’ll make them laugh

(1)  The following verbs are also especially likely to be affected: acometer ‘to assail’ (doubts, etc.), afligir ‘to afflict’ (pain, etc.), asustar ‘to frighten’, ayudar ‘to help’, calmar ‘to calm’, coger ‘to catch’, complacer ‘to please’, convencer ‘to convince’, distraer ‘to amuse’/‘distract’, encantar ‘to enchant’/‘charm’, estorbar ‘to impede’/‘get in the way of’, exasperar ‘to exasperate’, fascinar ‘to fascinate’, fatigar ‘to fatigue’, indignar ‘to outrage’, inquietar ‘to worry’, molestar ‘to trouble’, preocupar ‘to worry’, seducir ‘to charm’, tranquilizar ‘to calm’, etc. (2)  The rules given in this section reflect usage in Spain, the Southern Cone and Mexico, but many native speakers do not exploit all the potential of these subtleties so they may disagree about the correct pronoun to use. Strongly loísta speakers, e.g. Colombians, may uselo/la where others prefer le.

15.6.3 Preference for le/les after impersonal se (see 32.5 for this construction) If impersonal se precedes a third-person object pronoun there is a widespread tendency to prefer le/les when the object is human. Se le notaba tímida y cortada (LG, Sp.) One could see she was timid and   embarrassed Entonces se le leerá como se le debió Then he will be read as he always should   leer siempre . . . (MVLl, Pe.),    have been read . . . Hola doctor, ¡qué bien se le ve! Hello, doctor, you’re looking well!   (Peruvian speaker, Variedades 238) Se le nota triste (JH, Mex., dialogue) She seems sad/You can see she’s sad

15.6  Le used for human direct objects throughout the Spanish-speaking world


(1)  Use of le/les for the direct object removes the ambiguities caused in Spanish by the shortage of distinctive object pronoun forms. Use of lo/la after se invites us to read se as a substitute for le by the strong rule that two object pronouns beginning with l cannot occur side by side (14.9). Thus lecortaron la cabeza ‘they cut his/her head off’ is pronominalized se la cortaron ‘they cut it off (him/her)’ (never *le la cortaron!). For this reason se la notaba pálida may suggest ‘(s)he noticed that his/her/their hand, face, head, cheek, chin (or some other feminine noun) was pale’; se le notaba shows that the whole person is meant. (2)  Use of la after impersonal se to refer to a female and of lo to refer to a male is not, however, impossible: la luz se apagó y apenas se lo veía (MVLl, Pe.) ‘the light went out and one could scarcely see him’, se lo veía pálido en las fotos (JM, Sp.) ‘he looked pale in the photographs’, —No se le acusa de ningún hecho—. Y entonces ¿de qué se lo acusa? (interview La Nación, Arg.) ‘“He’s not being accused of any action.” “What is he being accused of then?”’(both forms used). (3)  In Spain le/les is occasionally seen even for non-human direct objects after impersonal se, although in this example los would have been more usual and more correct: a los esperpentos de Valle-Inclán siempre se les ha considerado ejemplos de expresionismo español (ABV, Sp.) ‘Valle-Inclán’s esperpentos have always been considered examples of Spanish expressionism’. (4)  The verb llevarse encourages use of lo for human and non-human direct objects. Most informants from the strongly leísta regions of Madrid, Segovia and Valladolid preferred lo to le in se rompió una pierna y se lo/le llevaron al hospital en ambulancia ‘he broke a leg and they took him to hospital in an ambulance’ (lo 75%, le 25%); a mi padre me lo/le voy a llevar a pasar las vacaciones con nosotros ‘I’m going to take my father on vacation with us’ (lo 62%, le 38%). This is apparently a peculiarity of the verb llevar: le is reserved for the meaning ‘carry to him/her’, and lo for the meaning ‘to take’ as in se lo llevó a casa ‘(s)he took it home’.

15.6.4  Le/les preferred with certain verbs Some verbs usually take le for what English-speakers probably would take to be their direct object when this object is human. This removes some of the ambiguities of the Spanish object pronoun system or it may clarify the meaning of the verb (see, for instance, pegar): Creer ‘to believe’: yo no le creo, señora, ‘Señora, I don’t believe you’, but sí que lo creo ‘I do believe it’. Discutir ‘to argue’/‘to discuss’, when it means ‘to answer back’: ¿desde cuándo le discutía? ‘since when had she been answering him back?’ (MVLl, Per., dialogue). Enseñar ‘to teach’/‘to show’: les enseñaba ‘(s)he taught them (human direct object)/showed them’ but lo enseñaba ‘(s)he showed it/taught it’. Entender ‘to understand’: no le entiendo ‘I don’t understand him/her/you’ but lo entiendo ‘I understand it’. Gustar/agradar/complacer/placer ‘to please’, and all verbs of similar or opposite meaning: le gusta la miel ‘(s)he/it likes/you like honey’, le disgustaba encontrarse sola ‘she disliked finding herself alone’. Importar ‘to matter’, concernir ‘to concern’ and verbs of similar meaning: no les importa que no tengan dinero ‘they don’t care that they have no money’; eso no le concierne a usted ‘that doesn’t concern you’. Interesar ‘to interest’: por si le interesa, estudié en la escuela Mártires de Tacubaya (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘in case you’re interested, I studied at the Martyrs of Tacubaya school’.

168 Le/les and lo/la/los/las Llamar ‘to call’. Many speakers prefer le/les when the verb means ‘to give a name’, although lo/la are also common: por eso le llaman mami (ABV, Sp., dialogue) ‘that’s why they call her “mummy”’, se nos informó en un “briefing”, que le llaman (TV interview, Cu.) ‘we were told in a “briefing”, as they call it’; but this usage is not universal: al más alegre lo llamaban el Trompo (GGM, Col.) ‘they called the most cheerful one “Spinning Top”’. For christening, educated usage says le pusieron de nombre María ‘they called her “María”’. La/lo/(le)/los/las are the usual object pronouns used when the verb means ‘phone’ or ‘call’: yo la llamaré apenas haya alguna novedad ‘I’ll call you/her as soon as there’s news’, but le is possible: ella le llamó ocho veces (EM, Mex., dialogue) ‘she called him eight times’. Telefonear takes le/les. Obedecer ‘to obey’: ¿le han obedecido a Mademoiselle Durand? ‘did you obey Mlle Durand?’ (EP, Mex., dialogue), although the verb is also found with la/lo. Pegar ‘to beat’:. . . con maridos que les pegan (JEP, Mex.) ‘. . . with husbands that beat them’, ¿le pegarías a una mujer? (EM, Mex., dialogue) ‘would you hit a woman?’. Pegarlo/pegarla, etc., is assumed to mean ‘to stick (i.e. glue) it’. La pegaba for ‘(s)he beat her’ is heard in familiar language, cf. luego él cambió y le daba achares y la pegaba (RM, Sp.) ‘then he changed and made her jealous and hit her’, la insultaba y la pegaba (SP, Sp.) ‘he insulted her and hit her’. The NGLE 41.2e considers this ‘rustic’. Preocupar, inquietar ‘to worry’: le preocupa ‘it worries him/her/you’. Recordar: when it means ‘to remind’: la recuerdo ‘I remember her’, but recuérdale que viene esta noche ‘remind her/him that (s)he’s coming tonight’. Tirar when it means ‘to pull’ rather than to ‘throw’ or ‘throw away’: la amiga le tiraba de la mano (JM, Sp.) ‘his/her friend was pulling her/him/you by the hand’. Compare lo/la tiró ‘(s)he threw it/(s)he threw it away’. Tocar when it means ‘to be the turn of’ rather than ‘to touch’: compare le toca a usted, señora ‘it’s your turn, Señora’ and la tocó a usted, señora ‘(s)he touched you, Señora’.

15.6.5  Le/les in double accusative constructions In Juan la oyó ‘John heard her’ la is normal. In ‘John heard her sing an aria’ there are two objects, one non-living, ‘aria’, which is obviously less active than the other human object ‘her’. Spanish speakers tend to use le to denote the more active object: Juan le oyó cantar un aria (la occurs, particularly in Spain, but may be rejected by educated speakers). Questionnaires, based on examples from García (1975), elicited the following replies from 20 educated madrileños, which confirmed García’s finding with Latin-American-speakers: María no quería venir, pero. . . obligamos a venir (la 70%, le 30%) ‘Maria didn’t want to come, but we obliged her to come’ (single accusative); pobre María, su padre siempre. . . obliga a decir la verdad (la 35%, le 65%) ‘poor Maria, her father always obliges her to tell the truth’ (two objects, ‘her’ and la verdad). (1)  Ver normally takes lo (in Spain le)/la/los/las: yo me quedé con ella porque quería verla firmar el contrato ‘I stayed with her because I wanted to see her sign the contract’. (2)  Dejar ‘to let’ tends to take la (and in Latin America lo) when the following infinitive is intransitive: lo/la dejaron ir ‘they let him/her go’ (le dejaron for ‘him’ in leísta Spain). If the infinitive is transitive le is more frequent: le dejaron comprar un helado ‘they let him/her buy an ice cream’. The same is true of hacer: la hice bajar a su estudio ‘I made her go down to her study’ but le hice tomar un café ‘I made her/him drink a coffee’ (from DPD 194).   Permitir takes le: le permitieron hacerlo.

15.11  Le for les


15.7  Pronouns with verbs of motion For acude a ella ‘(s)he goes to her’, se les acercó ‘(s)he approached them’, see 14.6.1.

15.8  ‘Resumptive’ or ‘echoing’ lo with ser, estar and haber The predicate of ser, estar, parecer and haber is resumed or ‘echoed’ by lo: parecía italiana y lo era ‘she looked Italian, and she was’. See 8.4.2 and 34.2.2 for details.

15.9  Se for le/les when they are followed by lo/la/los/las For the obligatory replacement of le by se when it precedes lo/la/los/las, as in se lo di ‘I gave it to him’ (never *le lo di), see 14.9.

15.10  Latin America se los for se lo For the very frequent colloquial Latin-American form ?se los dije ‘I told them/you (plural)’, for the standard se lo dije a ellos/ellas/ustedes, see 14.9.2.

15.11  Le for les For the universal colloquial tendency to use le for les when the latter is a ‘redundant’ pronoun, as in siempre le digo la verdad a mis padres ‘I always tell my parents the truth’, for les digo la verdad, see 14.10.3.

16 Forms of Spanish verbs This chapter discusses the following topics: • • • • • • • • • • • • •

The three conjugations (Section 16.1.1) Overview of the Spanish verb system (Section 16.2) The conjugation of regular verbs (Section 16.3) Spelling changes affecting all verbs (Section 16.4) Irregular verbs: introduction (Section 16.5) Radical-changing verbs (Section 16.6) Notes on the various verb forms (Section 16.7) Regional variations affecting verbs (Section 16.8) Verbs and the written accent (Section 16.9) Verbs ending in -cer or -cir (Section 16.10) Forms of model irregular and radical-changing verbs (Section 16.11) List of irregular verbs (Section 16.12) Formation of the compound tenses: an example (Section 16.13)

Readers of this book should already know the forms of the regular verbs and of the most important irregular verbs, but they are listed in this chapter for the sake of completeness. Argentine vos forms are mentioned since they are standard usage in that country and normal in some other places. See 12.3.1 for details. (1) Important: the translations of verbs listed in this chapter usually show only the most obvious meanings. Many of the verbs have several meanings which must be sought in a good dictionary.

16.1 The three conjugations Spanish verbs belong to one of three conjugations or verb-types, distinguished by the vowel of the infinitive: (1) -ar (2) -er (3) -ir, or -ír in the case of the verbs listed at 16.6.6. The full conjugation of three typical regular verbs in -ar, -er and -ir is shown at 16.3.

16.2 Overview of the Spanish verb system (a) Important: there are important, predictable spelling changes that affect certain verbs, regular and irregular. They are discussed at 16.4. (b) Important: vosotros forms are not used in Latin-American Spanish: ustedes forms replace them in speech and writing. Students of Latin-American Spanish will not need to use vosotros forms, but they are constantly used in Spain. (c) Important: all compound tenses (he hablado, habían visto, etc.) are formed with the auxiliary haber (see 16.11.22) and the past participle. The latter is invariable in form in these tenses, unlike in French and Italian. For an example of the conjugation of the compound tenses see 16.13. (d) The future subjunctive is almost obsolete. See 16.7.7 and 20.9.

16.3  Conjugation of regular verbs


16.3  Conjugation of regular verbs The three verbs hablar ‘to speak’, comer ‘to eat’ and vivir ‘to live’ are completely regular and are not affected by any spelling changes: they must be learned first. The -ir conjugation differs from the -er conjugation only in the forms shown in bold type: Stem Infinitive Gerund Past participle Imperative (tú) (vos) (vosotros/as) (usted) (ustedes)

habl- com- hablar comer hablando comiendo hablado comido

vivvivir viviendo vivido

habla come hablá comé hablad comed hable coma hablen coman

vive viví (Argentine forms: see 12.3.1) vivid (Spain only) viva vivan

INDICATIVE (i.e. non-subjunctive) FORMS. Their use is discussed in Chapter 17. Present The bracketed forms are Argentine vos forms: see 16.7.1. hablo hablas (hablás) habla

hablamos como habláis comes (comés) hablan come

comemos coméis comen

vivo vives (vivís) vive

vivimos vivís viven

Perfect (see 16.13) See 16.11.22 for the conjugation of haber. he hablado, etc.

he comido, etc.

he vivido, etc.

Imperfect hablaba hablabas hablaba

hablábamos comía hablabais comías hablaban comía

comíamos comíais comían

vivía vivías vivía

vivíamos vivíais vivían

hablamos comí hablasteis comiste hablaron comió

comimos viví comisteis viviste comieron vivió

vivimos vivisteis vivieron

Preterite hablé hablaste habló

Pluperfect (see 16.13)

Pretérito anterior (rarely used. See 16.13)

había hablado, comido, vivido, etc.

hube hablado, comido, vivido, etc.

Future hablaré hablarás hablará

hablaremos comeré hablaréis comerás hablarán comerá

Future perfect (see 16.13) habré hablado, comido, vivido, etc.

comeremos comeréis comerán

viviré viviremos vivirás viviréis vivirá vivirán

172 Forms of Spanish verbs Conditional hablaría hablaríamos hablarías hablaríais hablaría hablarían

comería comeríamos comerías comeríais comería comerían

viviría viviríamos vivirías viviríais viviría vivirían

Perfect conditional (see 16.13) habría hablado, comido, vivido, etc. SUBJUNCTIVE (discussed in Chapter 20) Present subjunctive hable hablemos hables habléis hable hablen

coma comamos comas comáis coma coman

viva vivamos vivas viváis viva vivan

See 20.12.5 for the subjunctive forms preferred in Argentina, where the pronoun vos is used instead of tú. Perfect subjunctive (See 16.13) haya hablado, haya comido, haya vivido, etc. Imperfect subjunctive Spanish has two forms of the imperfect subjunctive, more or less interchangeable (see 20.1.3) (a) -ra form hablara habláramos hablaras hablarais hablara hablaran

comiera comiéramos comieras comierais comiera comieran

viviera viviéramos vivieras vivierais viviera vivieran

comiese comiésemos comieses comieseis comiese comiesen

viviese viviésemos vivieses vivieseis viviese viviesen

(b) -se form hablase hablásemos hablases hablaseis hablase hablasen

Pluperfect subjunctive (see 16.13) hubiera hablado, comido, vivido, etc. hubiese hablado, comido, vivido, etc. Future subjunctive (more or less obsolete, see 20.9) hablare habláremos hablares hablareis hablare hablaren

comiere comiéremos comieres comiereis comiere comieren

viviere viviéremos vivieres viviereis viviere vivieren

16.4  Spelling changes affecting verbs The spelling rules described in this section apply to all Spanish verbs.

16.4  Spelling changes affecting verbs


16.4.1  Infinitive ends in -zar Z is written c before e: rezo ‘I pray’, recé ‘I prayed’, recemos ‘let us pray’, etc.

16.4.2  Infinitive ends in -car or -quir C is written qu before e: saco ‘I take out’, saqué ‘I took out’, saquemos ‘let’s take out’, etc. (1)  If the infinitive ends in -quir, qu is written c before o or a: delinquir ‘to commit a crime’, delinco ‘I commit a crime’, etc. Delinquir is used in formal styles, but the other verbs ending in -quir are rarely seen or heard.

16.4.3  Infinitive ends in -gar G is written gu before e: pago ‘I pay’, pagué ‘I paid’, paguemos ‘let’s pay’, etc.

16.4.4  Infinitive ends in -guar Averiguar ‘to find out’, aguar ’to water down’/‘to spoil’ (a party/fun), apaciguar ‘to pacify/­ placate’and other verbs ending in -guar are conjugated as regular -ar verbs and the u isnever stressed (i.e. it is always pronounced /w/). But a dieresis (two dots) is written over theu beforeafollowing e in order to preserve the pronunciation /gw/. The only forms with a ­dieresisare (bracketed forms are unaffected): • Imperative: (usted) averigüe, (ustedes) averigüen • Preterite: averigüé, (averiguaste), (averiguó), (averiguamos), (averiguasteis), (averiguaron) • Present subjunctive: averigüe, averigües, averigüe, averigüemos, averigüéis, averigüen

16.4.5  Infinitive ends in -cuar See 16.9.3.

16.4.6  Infinitive ends in -ger or -gir G is written j before o or a: proteger ‘to protect’, protejo ‘I protect’, protejamos ‘let’s protect’, etc. Fingir ‘to pretend’, finjo ‘I pretend’, finjamos ‘let’s pretend’, etc.

16.4.7  Infinitive ends in -guir Gu is written g before o or a: seguir ‘to follow’, sigo ‘I follow’, sigamos ‘let’s follow’. This affects the verbs erguir, conseguir, seguir, perseguir and proseguir, all of which are irregular in other ways: see 16.6.5.

16.4.8  Infinitive ends in -cer Most of these verbs have a slight irregularity. See 16.10.1 for a discussion.

16.4.9  Infinitive ends in -cir These also may have a slight irregularity, see 16.10.2.

174 Forms of Spanish verbs

16.4.10  Infinitive ends in -ñer, ñir, -llir ie is written e and ió is written ó after ñ or ll. The combinations *ñie, *ñió, *llie, *llió do not occur in Spanish: tañer ‘to chime’ gruñir ‘to grunt’ tañendo gruñendo tañó gruñó tañeron gruñeron tañera gruñera tañese gruñese

zambullirse ‘to dive’ zambulléndose se zambulló se zambulleron se zambullera, etc. se zambullese, etc.

16.4.11  Infinitive ends in -eer, -uir, -aer, -oer When unstressed i appears between two vowels it is written -y-. See poseer ‘to possess’ 16.11.36, construir ‘to build’ 16.11.13, traer ‘to bring’ 16.11.47, roer ‘to gnaw’ 16.11.41. This rule also applies to oír ‘to hear’ 16.11.29. Examples construyendo, trayendo, oyendo,etc.

16.5  Irregular verbs: general remarks Only about two dozen Spanish verbs – not counting verbs formed from them – are traditionally defined as truly irregular. These are: andar to walk 16.11.5 asir to seize (rarely used)   16.11.6 caber to fit into 16.11.8 caer to fall (and some   compounds) 16.11.9 dar to give 16.11.15 decir to say (and a few   compounds) 16.11.16 estar to be 16.11.21 haber auxiliary verb or   ‘there is/are’ 16.11.22

hacer to do/to make  16.11.23 ir to go 16.11.24 oír to hear 16.11.29 poder to be able 16.11.34 poner to put (and several   compounds) 16.11.35 producir to produce (and   all verbs ending in  –ducir) 16.11.37 querer to want 16.11.38 saber to know 16.11.42

salir to go out 16.11.43 ser to be 16.11.45 tener to have (and several   compounds) 16.11.46 traer to bring (and a few   compounds) 16.11.47 valer to be worth (and   compounds) 16.11.48 venir to come (and   compounds) 16.11.49 ver to see 16.11.50

16.6  Radical-changing verbs ‘Radical-changing’ verbs are numerous: several hundred are in everyday use, although many of them are derived from more familiar verbs, e.g. descontar ‘to discount’ is conjugated like contar ‘to count’/‘to tell a story’. Radical-changing verbs have regular endings, but a vowel in the stem is modified in some forms, cf. contar ‘to tell a story’ > cuenta ‘(s)he tells’, perder ‘to lose’ > pierdo ‘I lose’, sentir ‘to feel’ > siente ‘(s)he feels’ > sintió ‘(s)he felt’, etc. These verbs must be learned separately since their infinitive is no guide to whether they are radical-changing. Compare renovar ‘to renovate’ and tender a ‘to tend to’, which are radical-changing verbs, and innovar ‘to innovate’, pretender ‘to claim/intend’ which are not. The following list shows the common types of radical-changing verbs and a selection of verbs that occur constantly and should be learned first.

16.6  Radical-changing verbs


16.6.1  Conjugated like contar ‘to tell’/‘to count’, 16.11.14 Acordarse de ‘to remember’, acostarse ‘to go to bed’, apostar ‘to bet’, aprobar ‘to approve’, avergonzarse ‘to be ashamed’, colarse ‘to slip through’/‘to gate-crash’, colgar ‘to hang’, comprobar ‘to check’, consolar ‘to console’, costar ‘to cost’, demostrar ‘to demonstrate’ (a fact or technique), ­desaprobar ‘to disapprove’, encontrar ‘to find’/‘to meet’, esforzarse ‘to make an effort’, mostrar ‘to show’, probar ‘to prove’/‘to try’ (i.e. ‘to sample’/‘to test’), recordar ‘to remember’/‘to remind’, renovar ‘to renew’, rodar ‘to roll’/‘to make a film’, soltar ‘to release’/‘let out’, sonar ‘to sound’, soñar ‘to dream’, tronar ‘to thunder’, volar ‘to fly’.

16.6.2  Conjugated like cerrar ‘to close’, 16.11.11 Acertar ‘to get right’/‘to hit the mark’, apretar ‘to squeeze/tighten’, atravesar ‘to cross’, calentar ‘to heat’, comenzar ‘to begin’, confesar ‘to confess’, despertar(se) ‘to wake up’, empezar ‘to begin’, ence­ rrar ‘to lock/shut in’, enterrar ‘to bury’, gobernar ‘to govern’, helar ‘to freeze’ (liquids), manifestarse ‘to demonstrate’ (i.e. protest), negar ‘to deny’, nevar ‘to snow’, pensar ‘to think’, recomendar ‘to recommend’, sentarse ‘to sit down’, temblar ‘to tremble’, tropezar ‘to stumble’.

16.6.3  Conjugated like mover ‘to move’, 16.11.28 Desenvolver ‘to unwrap’, devolver ‘to give back’, disolver ‘to dissolve’, doler ‘to hurt’, envolver ‘to wrap up’, llover ‘to rain’, morder ‘to bite’, oler ‘to smell’ (see 16.11.30), remover ‘to stir up’ (Lat. Am. ‘to remove’), resolver ‘to resolve’, soler ‘to be accustomed to’ (+ infinitive), volver(se) ‘to return’/‘to become’. (1)  Verbs ending in -olver have an irregular past participle: vuelto, devuelto, resuelto, etc.

16.6.4  Conjugated like perder ‘to lose’, 16.11.32 Atender ‘to attend’ (i.e. pay attention), defender ‘to defend’, encender ‘to light/set fire to’, entender ‘to understand’, extenderse ‘to extend/stretch’ (over a distance), tender a ‘to tend to’.

16.6.5  Conjugated like pedir ‘to ask for’, 16.11.31 Competir ‘to compete’, concebir ‘to conceive’, conseguir ‘to achieve’/‘to manage’, corregir ‘to correct’, derretirse ‘to melt’, despedir ‘to say goodbye to’, elegir ‘to elect’/‘to choose’, gemir ‘to groan’, impedir ‘to hinder’/‘to impede’, medir ‘to measure’, perseguir ‘to persecute’/‘to chase’, proseguir ‘to continue’ (a course of action), rendirse ‘to surrender’, repetir ‘to repeat’, reñir ‘to scold’ (see 16.11.40), seguir ‘to follow’, servir ‘to serve’/‘to be useful’, vestir(se) ‘to wear’/‘to dress’.

16.6.6  Conjugated like reír ‘to laugh’, 16.11.39 Desleír(se) ‘to dissolve/melt’, engreírse ‘to grow conceited’, (re)freír ‘to fry’, sonreír ‘to smile’.

16.6.7  Conjugated like sentir ‘to feel’, 16.11.44 advertir ‘to warn’, arrepentirse ‘to repent’, consentir ‘to consent’, convertir ‘to convert’, convertirse en ‘to turn into’, desmentir ‘to deny’, disentir ‘to dissent’, divertir(se) ‘to amuse oneself’, herir ‘to wound’, interferir ‘to interfere’, invertir ‘to invest’, mentir ‘to tell lies’, preferir ‘to prefer’, referirse a ‘to refer to’, sugerir ‘to suggest’.

176 Forms of Spanish verbs

16.6.8  dormir ‘to sleep’ and morir ‘to die’, 16.11.18 16.6.9  jugar ‘to play’, 16.11.25 16.6.10  adquirir ‘to acquire’, 16.11.3 16.6.11  Conjugated like discernir ‘to discern’, 16.11.17 cernir ‘to sieve’ (cernirse = ‘to hover’/‘to loom’), concernir ‘to concern’ (third-person only).

16.6.12  Radical-changing verbs that are sometimes or often regular (a)  A few verbs are uncertain or have become regular. These include: cimentar ‘to cement’, conjugated like cerrar or, more usually, regular. Derrocar ‘to overthrow’ is nowadays regular. Mentar ‘to mention’ is increasingly made regular but educated usage still prefers to conjugate it like cerrar. Plegar ‘to fold’ is conjugated like cerrar or is optionally regular. (b) The following variant meanings are noteworthy: apostar means ‘to post a sentry’ when regular but when conjugated like contar means ‘to bet’. Aterrar is regular when it means ‘to terrorize’, but is conjugated like cerrar when it means ‘to flatten’/‘to raze to the ground’ (rare). Asolar means ‘to parch’ when regular but conjugated like contar it means ‘to level/raze to ground’ (nowadays often always regular).

16.7  Notes on the various tense forms These sections emphasize the predictable features of verbs and may assist the learning process. Unless otherwise mentioned, Argentine vos forms are the same as the standard tú forms.

16.7.1  Forms of the present indicative The endings of the present indicative of regular verbs and of all but a few irregular verbs are shown at 16.3. However, there are numerous verbs in the -er and -ir conjugations in which the first-person singular ending is attached to an irregular stem, e.g. producir ‘to produce’ > produzco ‘I produce’, poner ‘to put’ > pongo ‘I put’, etc. These must be learned separately. (1)  Important: four irregular verbs have a first-person singular ending in -y: dar ‘to give’ > doy, estar ‘to be’ > estoy, ir ‘to go’ > voy, ser ‘to be’ > soy. (2)  The Argentine vos forms of the present indicative tense are made by dropping any unaccented i from the ending of the European Spanish vosotros form: vosotros habláis > vos hablás ‘you speak’,vosotros sois > vos sos ‘you are’, vosotros teméis > vos temés ‘you fear’; but vosotros vivís > vosvivís ‘you live’, vosotros decís > vos decís ‘you say’. The verb forms used with vos in other areasof voseo,e.g. much of Central America, may differ slightly from the Argentine forms and should be learnedlocally.

16.7.2  Forms of the imperfect indicative The endings of the imperfect indicative are shown at 16.3. These endings are added to the stem left after removing the infinitive ending. There are only three exceptions: ser ‘to be’: era, eras, era, éramos, erais, eran ver ‘to see’: veía, veías, veía, veíamos, veíais, ir ‘to go’: iba, ibas, iba, íbamos, ibais, iban   veían (not the expected* vía, *vías, etc.)

16.7  Notes on the various tense forms


16.7.3  Forms of the preterite (US ‘preterit’) tense The endings of the preterite tense (tú and vos) of regular and radical-changing verbs are shown at 16.3. (1) Important: the third-person plural ending is -eron (not -ieron) in the case of the preterite of: • conducir ‘to drive’, and all verbs whose infinitive ends in -ducir: condujeron, redujeron • decir ‘to say’: dijeron • ser and ir ‘to be’ and ‘to go’: fueron • traer ‘to bring’: trajeron and all verbs whose infinitive ends in -ñir, -ñer or –llir: see 16.4.10. (2) Important: most of the irregular verbs listed at 16.5 have irregular preterite stems and many of them have unexpected first-person and third-person singular endings with no accent on the final vowel. Hacer ‘to do’ and traer ‘to bring’ are typical: hacer: hice, hiciste, hizo, hicimos, hicisteis, hicieron; traer: traje, trajiste, trajo, trajimos, trajisteis, trajeron. (3)  Important: verbs conjugated like sentir ‘to feel’, pedir ‘to ask’, and dormir ‘to sleep’ have irregularities in the third person of the preterite and therefore in the imperfect subjunctives: sintió > sintieron pidió > pidieron durmió > durmieron sintiera/sintiese pidiera/pidiese durmiera/durmiese (4)  The forms used with vos are the same as the standard tú forms, but see 16.8.1c for a popular and stigmatized tendency to add -s to the second-person singular forms.

16.7.4  Forms of the future and the conditional The endings for the future and the conditional tenses (tú and vos) are the same for all verbs, regular and irregular: they are shown at 16.3. These endings are added to the infinitive except in the cases of the following 12 verbs which have a special future/conditional stem, shown in bold: caber ‘to fit in’: cabr- poder ‘to be able’: podr- decir ‘to say’: dir- poner ‘to put’: pondr- haber (aux. verb): habr- querer ‘to want’: querr- hacer ‘to do/make’: har- saber ‘to know’: sabr-

salir ‘to go out’: saldrtener ‘to have’: tendrvaler ‘to be worth’: valdrvenir ‘to come’: vendr-

Example: Future: haré, harás, hará, haremos, haréis, harán. Conditional: haría, harías, haría, haríamos, haríais, harían.

16.7.5  Forms of the present subjunctive The endings of the present subjunctive are easily memorized: -ar verbs: the endings are the same as those of the present indicative of regular -er verbs except that the first-person ending is -e: hable, hables, hable, hablemos, habléis, hablen. -er and -ir: the endings are the same as those of the present indicative of regular -ar verbs, except that the first-person ending is -a. coma/viva, comas/vivas, coma/viva, comamos/vivamos, comáis/viváis, coman/vivan. (1) Important: as far as regular verbs and most irregular verbs are concerned, these endings are added to the stem left after removing the -o of the first-person present indicative: e.g. vengo

178 Forms of Spanish verbs ‘I come’ > venga, conduzco ‘I drive’ > conduzca, quepo ‘there’s room for me’ > quepa (from caber, 16.11.8), etc. There are six exceptions: dar ‘to give’ dé, des, dé, demos, deis, den. (the accent on dé    distinguishes it from de ‘of’) estar ‘to be’ esté, estés, esté, estemos, estéis, estén haber haya, hayas, haya, hayamos, hayáis, hayan ir ‘to go’ vaya, vayas, vaya, vayamos, vayáis, vayan saber ‘to know’ sepa, sepas, sepa, sepamos, sepáis, sepan ser ‘to be’ sea, seas, sea, seamos, seáis, sean (2)  In the case of radical-changing verbs, the usual vowel changes occur, e.g. cuente, cuentes, cuente, contemos, contéis, cuenten (from contar; see 16.11.14), pida, pidas, pida, etc. (from pedir; see 16.11.31). Verbs like sentir ‘to feel’ have another irregularity in the present subjunctive: sienta, sientas, sienta, sintamos, sintáis, sientan. This verb must not be confused with sentar/sentarse ‘to seat’/‘to sit down’ which is conjugated like cerrar. Morir ‘to die’ and dormir ‘to sleep’ also show extra irregularities in the present subjunctive. See 16.11.18 for details. (3)  In Argentina, and even more so in Uruguay, the vos forms of the present subjunctive used by careful speakers are the same as the standard tú forms of the present subjunctive. See 20.12.5 for a discussion of this point.

16.7.6  Forms of the imperfect subjunctive There are two sets of imperfect subjunctive endings: the imperfect subjunctive in -ra and the imperfect subjunctive in -se. They are shown at 16.3. When used as subjunctive forms, these two sets of forms are interchangeable, the -ra form being more common, but there are some differences between their other uses: see 20.1.3. The imperfect subjunctive endings are always added to the stem of the third-person singular of the preterite indicative. In the case of regular verbs this stem is found by removing the infinitive ending, e.g. habl(ar) > habl-: yo hablara/hablase, tú hablaras/hablases, él hablara/hablase, etc. But in the case of irregular verbs the preterite stem is often irregular, e.g. Infinitive Preterite stem Imperfect subjunctives sentir ‘to feel’ and verbs like it sint(ió) sintiera/sintiese, etc. pedir ‘to request’ and verbs like it pid(ió) pidiera/pidiese, etc. ser ‘be’ fu(e) fuera/fuese, etc. producir ‘to produce’, and all verbs produj(o) produjera/produjese,   ending in -ducir   etc. tener ‘to have’ tuv(o) tuviera/tuviese, etc. (1)  Morir and dormir have the third-person preterite stems mur(ió) and durm(ió), so the past ­subjunctives are muriera/muriese, durmiera/durmiese, etc. (2)  The forms -ese, -era, etc., not -iese, -iera, are used with the following verbs: decir ‘to say’ dijera/dijese, etc. ser ‘to be’ fuera/fuese, etc. traer ‘to bring’ trajera/trajese, etc.

16.7  Notes on the various tense forms


all verbs whose infinitive ends in -ducir condujera, produjese, etc. all verbs whose infinitive ends in -ñer, tañese, bullera, etc.   -ñir or -llir

16.7.7  Forms of the future subjunctive The future subjunctive is virtually obsolete and foreign learners can ignore it. Its limited surviving uses are discussed at 20.9. It is formed the same way as the imperfect subjunctive in -ra except that last a becomes e. -ar verbs: -are, -ares, -are, -áremos, -areis, -aren. -er and -ir verbs: ‑iere, -ieres, -iere, -iéremos, -iereis, -ieren. The future subjunctive of the verbs shown at 16.7.6 note 2 has the endings -ere, -eres, -ere, -éremos, -ereis, -eren.

16.7.8  Forms of the imperative See 16.3 for the regular forms, and Chapter 21 for irregular forms and the use of the imperative. (1)  The vos forms used in Argentina and most other areas of voseo can be found by removing the -d of the European vosotros imperative: contad > contá, decid > decí, etc. The vos imperative of ir ‘to go’ is andá.

16.7.9  Forms of the past participle The forms and uses of the past participle are discussed in Chapter 23.

16.7.10  Forms of the compound tenses The forms of the compound tenses, e.g. he hablado ‘I have spoken’, has visto ‘you’ve seen’, habían tenido ‘they’d had’, habrán hecho ‘they’ll have made’, etc., are always predictable if one can conjugate haber (see 16.11.22) and one knows the past participle of the verb. For this reason, individual compound tenses are not listed, but the full compound tense forms of a typical verb are shown at 16.13. The uses of the compound tenses are discussed at 18.2–6. (1) Important: unlike French, Italian and German, modern Spanish does not form the compound tenses of any verbs with ‘to be’. Compare French je suis venu(e), Italian sono venuto(a), German ich bin gekommen and Spanish he venido.

16.7.11  Forms of the gerund (see 24.2) 16.7.12  Forms of the adjectival participle This refers to forms like preocupante ‘worrying’, convincente ‘convincing’, discussed at 23.6.

16.7.13  Continuous forms of verbs Spanish has a full range of continuous forms, e.g. estoy hablando ‘I’m talking’, estuve esperando ‘I was waiting’/‘I waited for a time’, etc. They are all formed from the appropriate tense of estar (see 16.11.21) and the invariable gerund. Their use is discussed in Chapter 19.

180 Forms of Spanish verbs

16.7.14  Forms of the passive The passive with ser, e.g. fueron vistos ‘they were seen’, ha sido reconocida ‘she has been recognized’, etc., is formed with the appropriate tense of the verb ser (16.11.45) and the past participle, which agrees in number and gender with the subject of ser. There is another passive form, called pasiva refleja: se publicó en 2019 ‘it was published in 2019’. Both forms are discussed in Chapter 32.

16.8  Regional variations affecting verbs 16.8.1  Colloquial variants The Spanish verb system is remarkably stable throughout the Hispanic world despite the large number of forms and exceptions. Popular regularizations of irregular forms, e.g. *cabo for quepo (from caber ‘to fit into’), *produció for produjo (from producir ‘to produce’), *andé for anduve (from andar ‘to walk’) are stigmatized. Four colloquial or popular forms are worth noting: (a)  Use of vos instead of the pronoun tú in many parts of Latin America, especially in Argentina. It is discussed in 12.3.1; (b)  use of the infinitive for the vosotros form of the imperative (used in Spain only): dar for dad ‘give’, callaros for callaos ‘shut up!’/‘be quiet’, iros for idos ‘go away’, etc. For discussion see 21.9a; (c)  addition of -s to the second-person preterite singular, e.g. ?distes for diste ‘you gave’, ?hablastes for hablaste ‘you spoke’. This is common in popular speech on both continents, but it is stigmatized and avoided in careful speech; (d)  pluralization of forms haber (other than hay) when it means ‘there is’/‘there are’, e.g. ?habían muchos for había muchos ‘there were many’. This is more or less accepted in speech in Latin America but it is avoided in formal writing and is rejected in Spain. See 34.2.1; (e)  a tendency in some popular Latin-American dialects to make radical-changing verbs regular, e.g. *cuentamos for contamos ‘we tell’, *detiénete for detente ‘stop’. Such forms sometimes appear in the dialogue of novels, but they are strongly stigmatized; (f) use of a special tú form of the present indicative in popular Chilean speech (never in formal styles or careful speech), e.g. estay for estás, soy for eres.

16.9  Verbs and the written accent This section deals with the rules for writing the acute accent on verbs.

16.9.1 Spelling and pronunciation of aislar, reunir, prohibir, rehuir and similar verbs whose stem contains a diphthong When the last syllable but one of an infinitive contains a falling diphthong (one whose second letter is i or u pronounced y or w), this diphthong may or may not be broken into two syllables when it is stressed, e.g.

16.9  Verbs and the written accent


Pronunciation (See the Preface for the phonetic symbols)

prohibir to prohibit prohíbe (s)he prohibits reunir to join together reúnen they join rehuir to flee from rehúye s(h)e flees from

[pɾoy-ßíɾ] (two syllables) [pɾo-í-ße] (three syllables) [rrew-níɾ] (two syllables) [rre-ú-nen] (three syllables) [rre-wíɾ] (two syllables) [rre-ú-ye] (three syllables

Compare the following verb in which the diphthong is not broken: causar to cause causa it causes

[kaw-sáɾ] (two syllables) [káw-sa] (two syllables)

Since 1959, the stressed vowel in such broken diphthongs has been written with an accent; in the Academy’s view the fact that -h- appears between the two vowels makes no difference. Aislar ‘to isolate’, reunir ‘to bring together’, and prohibir `to prohibit’ are common examples. The ruling affects the following forms of the verb (bracketed forms are not affected): Tú imperative: aísla reúne prohíbe Usted(es) imperative: aísle/aíslen reúna/reúnan prohíba/prohíban Present indicative aíslo, aíslas, aísla (aislamos), (aisláis), aíslan reúne, reúnes, reúne (reunimos), (reunís), reúnen prohíbe, prohíbes, prohíbe (prohibimos), (prohibís), prohíben Present subjunctive: aísle, aísles, aísle, (aislemos), (aisléis), aíslen reúna, reúnas, reúna, (reunamos), (reunáis), reúnan prohibir: prohíba, prohíbas, prohíba, (prohibamos), (prohibáis), prohíban The following verbs are similarly affected, but bracketed verbs are now archaic or rare: (ahijar to adopt) (ahilar to line up) (ahincar to urge) (ahitar to cloy) ahumar to smoke (food) (airar to anger) (amohinar to vex) arcaizar to archaize

aullar to howl aunar to unite aupar to help up cohibir to restrain (desahitarse to digest) enraizar to take root europeizar to Europeanize hebraizar to Hebraicize

judaizar to Judaize maullar to meow prohijar to adopt rehilar to quiver rehusar to refuse sobrehilar to over-cast (in   sewing)

(1)  This Academy’s spelling rule is now generally obeyed everywhere in print, but many people still omit the accent in handwriting. (2)  In other verbs, the diphthong is not broken. When the diphthong is stressed, the accent falls on its first vowel so no written accent is needed, e.g. arraigarse ‘to take root’ > arraigo, encausar ‘to sue’ > encausa, etc. Similar are amainar ‘to die down’, causar ‘to cause’, desahuciar ‘to evict’/‘to give up hope for’ (variable, usually the diphthong is retained), desenvainar ‘to unsheathe’, embaucar ‘to swindle’, embaular ‘to pack’ (a trunk/suitcase: variable), envainar ‘to sheathe’, peinar ‘to comb’/‘to do someone’s hair’, reinar ‘to reign’, etc.

182 Forms of Spanish verbs

16.9.2  Verbs whose infinitive ends in -iar There are two types. The majority conjugate like cambiar ‘to change’: the -ia survives as a diphthong throughout and is always pronounced [ya], so the verb is conjugated like a regular -ar verb and no accent is written on the i. But about 50 verbs conjugate like enviar ‘to send’. These are conjugated like cambiar – i.e. r­ egularly– except that the i of the diphthong is stressed and written with an accent in the ­following cases (bracketed forms are not affected): • Imperative: (tú) envía, (usted) envíe, (vosotros enviad), (ustedes) envíen • Present indicative: envío, envías, envía, (enviamos), (enviáis), envían • Present subjunctive: envíe, envíes, envíe, (enviemos), (enviéis), envíen The following list shows common verbs which conjugate like enviar: agriar to sour (but often like   cambiar) aliar to ally amnistiar to amnesty ampliar to expand/enlarge ansiar to yearn for arriar to flood/to haul down ataviar to array (with clothes) autografiar to autograph auxiliar to aid (usually like  cambiar) averiar to damage aviar to fit out biografiar to write the   biography of conciliar to reconcile (usually  like cambiar) contrariar to counter criar* to breed/raise desafiar to challenge descarriar to misdirect

desliar to untie desvariar to rave desviar to divert enfriar to chill enviar to send espiar to spy expatriarse to emigrate   (also like cambiar) expiar to expiate extasiar to make ecstatic   (usually like cambiar) extraviar to mislead fiar* to confide fotografiar to photograph gloriar(se) to glory guiar* to guide hastiar to weary historiar to chronicle   (also like cambiar) inventariar to inventory liar* to tie/bundle

mecanografiar to type paliar to palliate   (often like cambiar) piar* to cheep (like a bird) porfiar to insist radiografiar to X-ray reconciliar to reconcile   usually like cambiar) repatriar to repatriate (also  like cambiar) resfriar to cool rociar to sprinkle telegrafiar to telegraph vaciar to empty vanagloriarse to be   boastful (almost always  like cambiar) variar to vary vidriar to glaze (also   like cambiar)

* The Academy has new rules about the spelling of some forms of the verbs marked with an asterisk. See 44.2.4.

16.9.3  Verbs whose infinitive ends in -uar Nearly all conjugate like actuar ‘to act’, i.e. the u may be stressed and is then written with an accent. The only forms affected are (bracketed and unlisted forms are not affected): • Imperative: (tú) actúa, (usted) actúe, (ustedes) actúen • Present indicative: actúo, actúas, actúa, (actuamos) (actuáis) actúan • Present subjunctive: actúe, actúes, actúe, (actuemos), (actuéis), actúen Verbs that conjugate like actuar: acentuar to emphasize atenuar to attenuate

conceptuar to deem continuar to continue

desvirtuar to spoil devaluar to devalue

16.10  Other verbs with slight irregularities

efectuar to carry out evaluar to assess exceptuar to except extenuar to emaciate fluctuar to fluctuate graduar to grade habituar to habituate


individuar to individualize puntuar to punctuate/to infatuar to infatuate   assess insinuar to hint redituar yield (profit, etc.) perpetuar to perpetuate situar to situate preceptuar to establish as a valuar to value norm/precept

(1)  For verbs whose infinitive ends in -guar see 16.4.4. (2)  Verbs ending in -cuar, e.g. evacuar ‘to evacuate’ and adecuar ‘to adapt (a policy/to a situation, etc.)’ were traditionally conjugated regularly, i.e. like averiguar but without the dieresis; this is the solution preferred by El País. But conjugation like actuar is now so common that the Academy accepts it (NGLE 4.9i).

16.9.4  Verbs ending in -ear All are regular. The combination ee is never written with an accent except in the vosotros endings of the present subjunctive and in first-person singular preterite, e.g. paseé. Pasear ‘to go for a walk’ is conjugated thus: • Present indicative: paseo, paseas, pasea, paseamos, paseáis, pasean • Present subjunctive: pasee, pasees, pasee, paseemos, paseéis, paseen • Preterite: paseé, paseaste, paseó, paseamos, paseasteis, pasearon

16.10  Other verbs with slight irregularities 16.10.1  Verbs ending in -cer If the infinitive ends in -cer the spelling change c > z before a or o is applied in the case of a few verbs. However, the only verbs ending in -cer that are conjugated in this way are: (a)  those in which the c/z occurs after a consonant: coercer to coerce ejercer to practise convencer to convince (re)torcer to twist (radical destorcer to untwist   changing: see 16.11.12)

vencer to defeat

(b)  the following exceptional verbs: • (re)cocer to boil (food) (radical-changing; see 16.11.12) • escocer to sting (intransitive), conjugated like cocer; picar ‘to sting’ is more usual • mecer to rock/swing; mecerse to sway The rest are like parecer, i.e. -zc- appears before -o or -a. See 16.11.10. For hacer, placer, yacer see the list of verbs at 16.12.

16.10.2  Verbs ending in -cir The spelling change c > z before a or o applies in the case of the regular verbs esparcir ‘to scatter/ strew’, fruncir ‘to pucker/wrinkle’ (the eyebrows), resarcir ‘to repay (effort)’, uncir ‘to yoke’ and zurcir ‘to darn’/‘to sew together’. Any others, e.g. producir, lucir, should be viewed with suspicion, and checked in the list at 16.12.

184 Forms of Spanish verbs

16.11  Model irregular and radical-changing verbs 16.11.1  Forms: general Irregular verbs and model radical-changing verbs are listed in alphabetical order. The list omitsoddities like the archaic abarse, found only in the form ábate ‘get thee hence!’, or usucapir ‘to acquire property rights through customary use’, used in legal jargon and only in the infinitive. In general, only the irregular forms are shown, except in the cases of some very common verbs.

16.11.2  Abolir ‘to abolish’ Traditionally considered a ‘defective verb’: only those forms are used in which the verb ending begins with -i: Infinitive: abolir Gerund: aboliendo Imperative: abolid (*abole is not used) Present indicative: only abolimos and abolís are used Present subjunctive: not used

Past participle: abolido

However, the NGLE 4.14d and El País now accept all forms of this verb, conjugated regularly (i.e. abole not *abuele), although those shown above are more frequently used. All other tenses are regular. Other verbs or constructions can replace little-used forms, e.g. sin que se abola by sin que sea abolido. A few other verbs are defective, but only abolir, agredir and transgredir (see 16.11.4) are common nowadays: agredir see 16.11.4 empedernir ‘to harden’/‘to petrify’ (only arrecirse (Lat. Am.) ‘to be frozen stiff’   the participle, empedernido, is in current  use) aterirse ‘to be numb with cold’ (only garantir ‘guarantee’ (garantizar in Spain,   infinitive and participle in current use)   but still used in Peru and the Southern blandir ‘to brandish’   Cone, where it is often conjugated  regularly)

16.11.3  Adquirir ‘to acquire’ (also inquirir ‘to enquire’) The infinitive was once adquerir, hence the -ie- when the stem vowel is stressed. Bracketed forms are regular, as are all forms not shown, e.g. adquirí, adquiría, adquiriré, adquiriera, etc. • Imperative: (tú) adquiere, (usted) adquiera, (vosotros adquirid), (ustedes) adquieran • Present indicative: adquiero, adquieres, adquiere, (adquirimos), (adquirís), adquieren • Present subjunctive: adquiera, adquieras, adquiera, (adquiramos), (adquiráis), adquieran

16.11.4  Agredir ‘to assault’/‘to attack’ Classified by some as defective (like abolir; see 16.11.2), by others as a regular -ir verb. The new Academy dictionary declares it to be a normal -ir verb, and El País agrees. Transgredir ‘to transgress’ is also now considered to be regular.

16.11  Model irregular and radical-changing verbs


16.11.5  Andar ‘to walk’/‘to go about’ A regular -ar verb except for the preterite and the past subjunctives: Preterite: anduve, anduviste, anduvo, anduvimos, anduvisteis, anduvieron Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): anduviera, anduvieras, anduviera, anduviéramos, anduvierais,   anduvieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): anduviese, anduvieses, anduviese, anduviésemos, anduvieseis,   anduviesen Preterite forms like *andé, *andaste are heard, but they are strongly stigmatized.

16.11.6  Asir ‘to grasp’/‘to seize’ This verb is dying out and agarrarse is now much more common. Forms that contain a g are avoided, but other forms are heard, e.g. me así a una rama para no caerme ‘I clutched hold of a branch so as not to fall’. It is conjugated like a regular -ir verb except for (bracketed forms are regular): Imperative: (usted) asga, (vosotros) asid, (ustedes) asgan Present indicative: asgo, (ases, ase, asimos, asís, asen) Present subjunctive: asga, asgas, asga, asgamos, asgáis, asgan

16.11.7  Balbucir ‘to stammer’ Nowadays found only in those forms whose ending begins with i, e.g. balbucía, balbució. For other forms the regular balbucear is used and is the usual verb in spontaneous speech.

16.11.8  Caber ‘to fit in’ Numerous irregularities: Gerund: cabiendo Past participle: cabido Imperative: (tú) cabe, (vosotros) cabed, (usted) quepa, (ustedes) quepan Present indicative: quepo, cabes, cabe, cabemos, cabéis, caben Imperfect (regular): cabía, cabías, cabía, cabíamos, cabíais, cabían Preterite: cupe, cupiste, cupo, cupimos, cupisteis, cupieron Future: cabré, cabrás, cabrá, cabremos, cabréis, cabrán  Conditional: cabría, etc. Present subjunctive: quepa, quepas, quepa, quepamos, quepáis, quepan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): cupiera, cupieras, cupiera, cupiéramos, cupierais, cupieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): cupiese, cupieses, cupiese, cupiésemos, cupieseis, cupiesen (1)  Usage: ¿quepo yo? ‘is there room for me?’, no cabe ‘it won’t fit’, no cabíamos ‘there wasn’t room for us’, no cupo en el clóset la ropa de las dos (ES, Mex. In Spain clóset = el armario) ‘there was no room in the closet/cupboard for the two women’s clothes’, no cabe la menor duda de que . . . ‘there isn’t room for the slightest doubt that . . .’.

16.11.9  Caer ‘to fall’ Gerund: cayendo  Past participle: caído Imperative: (tú) cae, (vosotros) caed, (usted) caiga, (ustedes) caigan Present indicative: caigo, caes, cae, caemos, caéis, caen Imperfect (regular): caía, caías, caía, caíamos, caíais, caían

186 Forms of Spanish verbs Preterite: caí, caíste, cayó, caímos, caísteis, cayeron Future (regular): caeré, etc.  Conditional (regular): caería, etc. Present subjunctive: caiga, caigas, caiga, caigamos, caigáis, caigan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): cayera, cayeras, cayera, cayéramos, cayerais, cayeran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): cayese, cayeses, cayese, cayésemos, cayeseis, cayesen

16.11.10  Verbs ending in -cer All verbs ending in -cer conjugate like agradecer ‘to thank’, shown below, except the regular verbs coercer, ejercer, (con)vencer and mecer and the radical-changing verbs escocer, (re)cocer and (re)torcer. These are discussed at 16.10.1. In all other verbs ending in -cer, c > zc before a or o. All forms are as for a regular -er verb except for (bracketed forms are regular) Imperative: (usted) agradezca, (vosotros agradeced), (ustedes) agradezcan Present indicative: agradezco, (agradeces, agradece, agradecemos, agradecéis, agradecen) Present subjunctive: agradezca, agradezcas, agradezca, agradezcamos, agradezcáis, agradezcan

16.11.11  Cerrar ‘to shut’/‘to close’ A common type of radical-changing verb. The endings are those of regular -ar verbs, but the e of the stem changes to ie when stressed. All forms are as for a regular -ar verb, save (bracketed forms are regular): Imperative: (tú) cierra, (usted) cierre, (vosotros cerrad), (ustedes) cierren Present indicative: cierro, cierras, cierra, (cerramos), (cerráis), cierran Present subjunctive: cierre, cierres, cierre, (cerremos), (cerréis), cierren

16.11.12  Cocer ‘to boil’ (food) This, and three verbs like it, torcer ‘to twist’, destorcer ‘to untwist’ and retorcer ‘to wring’/‘to twist’, conjugate exactly like mover save for the predictable spelling change c > z before a, o (bracketed forms are regular): Imperative: (tú) cuece, (usted) cueza, (vosotros coced), (ustedes) cuezan Present indicative: cuezo, cueces, cuece, (cocemos), (cocéis), cuecen Present subjunctive: cueza, cuezas, cueza, (cozamos), (cozáis), cuezan

16.11.13  Construir ‘to build’ Verbs ending in -uir are quite common. An unstressed i between vowels is spelt y, e.g. construyó for the expected *construió and an unexpected y is inserted in a number of forms, e.g. construyes for the predicted *construes. Gerund: construyendo  Past participle: construido (no accent! See 44.2.3 for explanation) Imperative: (tú) construye, (vosotros) construid, (usted) construya, (ustedes) construyan Present indicative: construyo, construyes, construye, construimos (no accent!), construís,   construyen Imperfect (regular): construía, construías, construía, construíamos, construíais, construían Preterite: construí, construiste, construyó, construimos, construisteis, construyeron Future (regular): construiré, etc.  Conditional (regular): construiría, etc. Present subjunctive: construya, construyas, construya, construyamos, construyáis,   construyan

16.11  Model irregular and radical-changing verbs


Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): construyera, construyeras, construyera, construyéramos, construyerais,   construyeran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): construyese, construyeses, construyese, construyésemos, construyeseis,   construyesen (1)  Argüir ‘to argue (a point)’ is spelt with a dieresis whenever the u is followed by i. This preserves the pronunciation [gwi]: arguyo, argüimos, argüí, argüía, but arguya, arguyeron, etc. (2)  Huir ‘to flee’ (but not rehuir ‘to avoid/shun’) and fluir ‘to flow’ are affected by the Academy’s new spelling recommendations. See 44.2.4.

16.11.14  Contar ‘to count’/‘to tell a story’ A common type of radical-changing verb: the o of the stem changes to ue when it is stressed. All forms are as for a regular -ar verb except (bracketed forms are regular): Imperative: (tú) cuenta, (usted) cuente, (vosotros contad), (ustedes), cuenten Present indicative: cuento, cuentas, cuenta, (contamos), (contáis), cuentan Present subjunctive: cuente, cuentes, cuente, (contemos), (contéis), cuenten

16.11.15  Dar ‘to give’ Gerund: dando Past participle: dado Imperative: (tú) da, (vosotros) dad, (usted) dé, (ustedes) den Present indicative: doy, das (also used with vos), da, damos, dais, dan Imperfect (regular): daba, dabas, daba, dábamos, dabais, daban Preterite: di (no accent!), diste, dio (no accent!), dimos, disteis, dieron Future (regular): daré, etc.  Conditional (regular): daría, etc. Present subjunctive: dé, des, dé, demos, deis, den Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): diera, dieras, diera, diéramos, dierais, dieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): diese, dieses, diese, diésemos, dieseis, diesen (1)  The accent on the present subjunctive forms distinguishes them from the preposition de ‘of’. This accent becomes unnecessary - although it is seen in print and often in handwriting – when a pronoun is added: deme ‘give me’, dele ‘give him/her’, denos ‘give us’.

16.11.16  Decir ‘to say’ Gerund: diciendo Past participle: dicho Imperative: (tú) di, (vosotros) decid, (usted) diga, (ustedes) digan Present indicative: digo, dices, dice, decimos, decís, dicen Imperfect (regular): decía, decías, decía, decíamos, decíais, decían Preterite: dije, dijiste, dijo, dijimos, dijisteis, dijeron Future: diré, dirás, dirá, diremos, diréis, dirán  Conditional: diría, etc. Present subjunctive: diga, digas, diga, digamos, digáis, digan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): dijera, dijeras, dijera, dijéramos, dijerais, dijeran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): dijese, dijeses, dijese, dijésemos, dijeseis, dijesen (1)  Predecir ‘to foretell’ and contradecir ‘to contradict’ are conjugated regularly in the future, ­conditional and tú imperative forms: predeciré, etc., predeciría, etc., tú imperative predice, etc. Forms like prediré, contradiría are said by Seco (1998), 351, to be ‘rare’ but the Academy (NGLE4.11a) accepts them.

188 Forms of Spanish verbs (2)  Desdecir (e.g. desdecirse de ‘to go back on’) has the tú imperative desdice, but is otherwise regular, although rarer forms like desdeciré, desdeciría are not considered incorrect. The same is true of contradecir ‘to contradict’: contradice, contradiré, contradiría, rarely contradeciré, contradeciría.

16.11.17  Discernir, ‘to discern’ This shows the common radical-changing modification e > ie, but verbs like discernir are very unusual in the -ir conjugation: only cernirse ‘to hover’/‘to loom’, concernir (third-person only) ‘to concern’ and hendir (in Spain also hender, like entender) ‘to cleave’ are conjugated like it. Bracketed forms are regular: Imperative: (tú) discierne, (usted) discierna, (vosotros discernid), (ustedes) disciernan Present indicative: discierno, disciernes, discierne, (discernimos), (discernís), disciernen Preterite (regular): discerní, discerniste, discernió*, discernimos, discernisteis, discernieron* Present subjunctive: discierna, disciernas, discierna, (discernamos), (discernáis), disciernan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra) (regular): discerniera, etc. Imperfect subjunctive (-se) (regular): discerniese, etc. *Not the expected *discirnió, *discirnieron All other forms are as for a regular -ir verb.

16.11.18  Dormir ‘to sleep’, morir ‘to die’ Dormir and morir are the only verbs of this kind. Apart from the common change o > ue when the o is stressed, the third-person preterite stem vowel is u. The u also appears in the first and second-person plural of the present subjunctive and in the gerund. Forms in brackets are regular: Gerund: durmiendo  Past participle: dormido, but muerto is the past participle of morir Imperative: (tú) duerme, (vosotros dormid), (usted) duerma, (ustedes) duerman Present indicative: duermo, duermes, duerme, (dormimos), (dormís), duermen Imperfect (regular): dormía, dormías, dormía, dormíamos, dormíais, dormían Preterite: (dormí), (dormiste), durmió, (dormimos), (dormisteis), durmieron Future (regular): dormiré, etc. Conditional (regular): dormiría, etc. Present subjunctive: duerma, duermas, duerma, durmamos, durmáis, duerman Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): durmiera, durmieras, durmiera, durmiéramos, durmierais, durmieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): durmiese, durmieses, durmiese, durmiésemos, durmieseis, durmiesen (1)  In literary and journalistic styles the participle muerto is sometimes used instead of matado ‘killed’ when human beings are involved: un total de tres soldados fueron muertos por un dispositivo explosivo ‘a total of three soldiers were killed by an explosive device’.

16.11.19  Erguir(se) ‘to rear up’/‘to sit up straight’ This verb has alternative forms in some of its tenses, the forms with y- being preferred nowadays. Forms in brackets are regular: Gerund: irguiendo Past participle: erguido Imperative: (tú) yergue/irgue, (vosotros erguid), (usted) yerga/irga, (ustedes) yergan/irgan Present indicative: yergo/irgo, yergues/irgues, yergue/irgue, (erguimos), (erguís), yerguen/irguen Imperfect (regular): erguía, erguías, erguía, etc.

16.11  Model irregular and radical-changing verbs


Preterite: (erguí), (erguiste), irguió, (erguimos), (erguisteis), irguieron Present subjunctive: yerga/irga, yergas/irgas, yerga/irga, yergamos/irgamos, yergáis/irgáis,   yergan/irgan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): irguiera, irguieras, irguiera, irguiéramos, irguierais, irguieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): irguiese, irguieses, irguiese, irguiésemos, irguieseis, irguiesen (1)  All other forms are regular. Usage: no te agaches—ponte erguido ‘stop slouching – sit up straight’, se irguió como una serpiente ‘it rose/reared up like a snake’, el perro irguió las orejas ‘the dog pricked up its ears’, él se irguió un momento, recostándose sobre la almohada (JV, Mex.) ‘he sat up for a moment, leaning back against the pillow’.

16.11.20  Errar ‘to wander’/‘err’ This verb conjugates like cerrar, i.e. e > ie when stressed, but the ie is written ye. It is, however, regular in the Southern Cone and Colombia and in some other parts of Latin America, i.e. erro, erras, erra, etc. Conjugated like a regular ar verb except for (bracketed forms are regular): Imperative: (tú) yerra, (usted) yerre, (vosotros errad), (ustedes) yerren Present indicative: yerro, yerras, yerra, (erramos), (erráis), yerran Present subjunctive: yerre, yerres, yerre, (erremos), (erréis), yerren

16.11.21  Estar ‘to be’ This verb is used very frequently. The difference between it and ser, which both mean ‘to be’, is discussed in Chapter 33. Gerund (reg.): estando  Past participle (reg.): estado Imperative: (tú) está, (vosotros estad, reg.), (usted) esté, (ustedes) estén Present indicative: estoy, estás, está, estamos, estáis, están Imperfect (regular): estaba, estabas, estaba, estábamos, estabais, estaban Preterite: estuve, estuviste, estuvo, estuvimos, estuvisteis, estuvieron Future (reg.): estaré, etc.  Conditional (reg.): estaría, etc. Present subjunctive: esté, estés, esté, estemos, estéis, estén Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): estuviera, estuvieras, estuviera, estuviéramos, estuvierais, estuvieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): estuviese, estuvieses, estuviese, estuviésemos, estuvieseis, estuviesen (1)  The imperative is often formed from the pronominal (i.e. ‘reflexive’) form, i.e. estate, estaos, estese, estense. These are frequently – but unnecessarily – spelt with an accent, e.g. estáte. See 21.2.6.

16.11.22 Haber, auxiliary verb, and also ‘there is’, ‘there are’, ‘there were’, etc. This common verb is used to form the compound tenses of all regular and irregular verbs (for a discussion of the compound tenses, e.g. he hablado, habían visto, see Chapter 18). It is also used in the third person only as the main ‘existential’ verb, cf. había muchos ‘there were a lot’, habrá menos de cinco ‘there will be less than five’. When used thus its present indicative form is hay: see Chapter 34 for a discussion of its use. Gerund: habiendo  Past participle: habido Imperative: (not used) Present indicative: he, has (also used with vos), ha (hay), hemos, habéis, han Imperfect (regular): había, habías, había, habíamos, habíais, habían

190 Forms of Spanish verbs Preterite: hube, hubiste, hubo, hubimos, hubisteis, hubieron Future: habré, habrás, habrá, habremos, habréis, habrán Conditional: habría, habrías, habría, habríamos, habríais, habrían Present subjunctive: haya, hayas, haya, hayamos, hayáis, hayan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): hubiera, hubieras, hubiera, hubiéramos, hubierais, hubieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): hubiese, hubieses, hubiese, hubiésemos, hubieseis, hubiesen (1)  The past subjunctive in -ra is also much used to form the conditional perfect, i.e. te hubiera llamado for te habría llamado ‘I would have phoned you’. See 17.7.5 for discussion. (2)  When it means ‘there is/was/will be’, etc., this verb is singular: había cinco ‘there were five’. Forms like ?habían cinco are unacceptable in Castilian-speaking Spain and in writing everywhere, but they are heard in spoken Spanish in Catalonia and Latin America. (3)  Habemos is used in the phrase nos las habemos ‘we’re dealing with’. See 8.4.4 note 1 for an example. In other contexts, the form habemos is stigmatized. See 34.2.1 note 2. (4)  The form ?haiga is sometimes heard for the subjunctive haya but it is stigmatized as rustic or illiterate.

16.11.23  Hacer ‘to do’/‘to make’ There are several compounds, e.g. deshacer ‘to undo’, contrahacer ‘to counterfeit’ Gerund: haciendo Past participle: hecho Imperative: (tú) haz, (vosotros) haced, (usted) haga, (ustedes) hagan Present indicative: hago, haces, hace, hacemos, hacéis, hacen Imperfect (regular): hacía, hacías, hacía, hacíamos, hacíais, hacían Preterite: hice, hiciste, hizo, hicimos, hicisteis, hicieron Future: haré, harás, hará, haremos, haréis, harán Conditional: haría, etc. Present subjunctive: haga, hagas, haga, hagamos, hagáis, hagan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): hiciera, hicieras, hiciera, hiciéramos, hicierais, hicieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): hiciese, hicieses, hiciese, hiciésemos, hicieseis, hiciesen (1)  Satisfacer ‘to satisfy’ is conjugated like hacer –­ satisfará, satisfizo, etc. – although the tú imperative can be either satisfaz or satisface. (2)  The form ha for hace is obsolete, but occasionally seen in archaic phrases like años ha ‘years ago’ for hace años.

16.11.24  Ir ‘to go’ Numerous irregularities: Gerund: yendo Past participle: ido Imperative: (tú) ve (see note 2), (vosotros) id (see note 1), (usted) vaya, (ustedes) vayan Present indicative: voy, vas (also used with vos), va, vamos, vais, van Imperfect: iba, ibas, iba, íbamos, ibais, iban Preterite: fui (no accent!), fuiste, fue (no accent!), fuimos, fuisteis, fueron Future (regular): iré, irás, irá, iremos, iréis, irán  Conditional (regular): iría, etc. Present subjunctive: vaya, vayas, vaya, vayamos, vayáis, vayan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): fuera, fueras, fuera, fuéramos, fuerais, fueran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): fuese, fueses, fuese, fuésemos, fueseis, fuesen

16.11  Model irregular and radical-changing verbs


(1)  The vosotros imperative of irse is irregularly idos (for the predicted *íos). See 21.2.4 for further discussion of this form. (2)  The standard Argentine vos imperative of ir is andá. The predicted vos imperative i is reportedly heard in popular speech in north-eastern Argentina but it is stigmatized (NGLE 4.13j). We have never seen it in written Spanish.

16.11.25  Jugar ‘to play’ (a game). This verb is unique in that u>ue when stressed. Note also g>gu before e. All forms are as for a regular -ar verb except (bracketed forms are regular): Imperative: (tú) juega, (usted) juegue, (vosotros jugad), (ustedes) jueguen Present indicative: juego, juegas, juega, (jugamos), (jugáis), juegan Preterite (regular): jugué, jugaste, jugó, jugamos, jugasteis, jugaron Present subjunctive: juegue, juegues, juegue, (juguemos), (juguéis), jueguen

16.11.26 Lucir ‘to look good’, ‘to wear’ as in lucía un vestido nuevo ‘she was wearing a new dress’ C > zc before a or o. All other forms are as for a regular -ir verb (bracketed forms are also regular): Imperative: (tú luce), (usted) luzca, (vosotros lucid), (ustedes) luzcan Present indicative: luzco, (luces, luce, lucimos, lucís, lucen) Present subjunctive: luzca, luzcas, luzca, luzcamos, luzcáis, luzcan (1)  Verbs ending in -ducir are conjugated like producir, shown at 16.11.37.

16.11.27  Maldecir ‘to curse’, bendecir ‘to bless’ Conjugated like decir in some tenses, and regularly in others. Forms that differ from decir are shown in bold type: Gerund: maldiciendo Past participle: maldecido (for maldito, bendito see 23.2.1) Imperative: (tú) maldice, (vosotros) maldecid, (usted) maldiga, (ustedes) maldigan Present indicative: maldigo, maldices, maldice, maldecimos, maldecís, maldicen Imperfect (regular): maldecía, etc. Preterite: maldije, maldijiste, maldijo, maldijimos, maldijisteis, maldijeron Future (regular): maldeciré, maldecirás, maldecirá, maldeciremos, maldeciréis, maldecirán Conditional (regular): maldeciría, maldecirías, maldeciría, maldeciríamos, maldeciríais,  maldecirían Present subjunctive: maldiga, maldigas, maldiga, maldigamos, maldigáis, maldigan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): maldijera, maldijeras, maldijera, maldijéramos, maldijerais, maldijeran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): maldijese, maldijeses, maldijese, maldijésemos, maldijeseis, maldijesen

16.11.28  Mover ‘to move’ A common type of radical-changing verb. The o of the stem changes to ue when stressed. All other forms (including bracketed ones) are as for regular -er verbs:

192 Forms of Spanish verbs Imperative: (tú) mueve, (usted) mueva, (vosotros moved), (ustedes) muevan Present indicative: muevo, mueves, mueve, (movemos), (movéis), mueven Present subjunctive: mueva, muevas, mueva, (movamos), (mováis), muevan

16.11.29 Oír ‘to hear’ (also desoír ‘to disregard’, ‘to turn a deaf ear to a request’) Gerund: oyendo Past participle: oído Imperative: (tú) oye, (vosotros) oíd, (usted) oiga, (ustedes) oigan Present indicative: oigo, oyes, oye, oímos, oís, oyen Imperfect (regular): oía, oías, oía, oíamos, oíais, oían Preterite: oí, oíste, oyó, oímos, oísteis, oyeron Future (regular): oiré, etc.  Conditional (regular): oiría, etc. Present subjunctive: oiga, oigas, oiga, oigamos, oigáis, oigan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): oyera, oyeras, oyera, oyéramos, oyerais, oyeran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): oyese, oyeses, oyese, oyésemos, oyeseis, oyesen (1)  There is a confusing and spreading tendency everywhere to replace oír by escuchar, which properly means ‘to listen’ and not ‘to hear’. One hears answerphone messages like deja un mensaje cuando escuches la señal for cuando oigas la señal ‘leave a message when you hear the tone’.

16.11.30  Oler ‘to smell’ Oler is conjugated like mover but shows the predictable spelling hue for ue when this diphthongisat the beginning of a word. All forms, including bracketed ones, as for a regular -er verb except: Imperative: (tú) huele, (usted) huela, (vosotros oled), (ustedes) huelan Present indicative: huelo, hueles, huele, (olemos), (oléis), huelen Present subjunctive: huela, huelas, huela, (olamos), (oláis), huelan

16.11.31  Pedir ‘to ask for’ The endings are regular, but the e of the stem changes to i when stressed, and also in the gerund, third-person preterite and imperfect subjunctive: Gerund: pidiendo Past participle: pedido Imperative: (tú) pide, (vosotros) pedid, (usted) pida, (ustedes) pidan Present indicative: pido, pides, pide, pedimos, pedís, piden Imperfect (regular): pedía, pedías, pedía, pedíamos, pedíais, pedían Preterite: pedí, pediste, pidió, pedimos, pedisteis, pidieron Future (regular): pediré, etc.  Conditional (regular): pediría, etc. Present subjunctive: pida, pidas, pida, pidamos, pidáis, pidan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): pidiera, pidieras, pidiera, pidiéramos, pidierais, pidieran Imperfect subjunctive: (-se): pidiese, pidieses, pidiese, pidiésemos, pidieseis, pidiesen

16.11.32  Perder ‘to lose’ A common type of radical-changing verb. The endings are regular, but the e of the stem changes to ie when stressed. All forms, included bracketed ones, are as for a regular -er verb except:

16.11  Model irregular and radical-changing verbs


Imperative: (tú) pierde, (usted) pierda, (ustedes) pierdan Present indicative: pierdo, pierdes, pierde, (perdemos), (perdéis), pierden Present subjunctive: pierda, pierdas, pierda, (perdamos), (perdáis), pierdan

16.11.33  Placer ‘to please’ Found only in the third person and nowadays rare but not quite extinct: gustar (regular) is the usual word for ‘to please’. It is conjugated like agradecer (see 16.11.10) except that archaic irregular alternatives, none nowadays used, existed for the following third-person forms: Preterite Present subjunctive sing. plugo, plur. pluguieron plega(n)

Imperfect subjunctive pluguiera(n)/pluguiese(n)

16.11.34  Poder ‘to be able’ Gerund: pudiendo Past participle: podido Imperative: not used Present indicative: puedo, puedes, puede, podemos, podéis, pueden Imperfect (regular): podía, podías, podía, podíamos, podíais, podían Preterite: pude, pudiste, pudo, pudimos, pudisteis, pudieron Future: podré, podrás, podrá, podremos, podréis, podrán Conditional: podría, etc. Present subjunctive: pueda, puedas, pueda, podamos, podáis, puedan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): pudiera, pudieras, pudiera, pudiéramos, pudierais, pudieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): pudiese, pudieses, pudiese, pudiésemos, pudieseis, pudiesen

16.11.35  Poner ‘to put’ Gerund: poniendo Past participle: puesto Imperative: (tú) pon, (vosotros) poned, (usted) ponga, (ustedes) pongan Present indicative: pongo, pones, pone, ponemos, ponéis, ponen Imperfect (regular): ponía, ponías, ponía, poníamos, poníais, ponían Preterite: puse, pusiste, puso, pusimos, pusisteis, pusieron Future: pondré, pondrás, pondrá, pondremos, pondréis, pondrán  Conditional: pondría, etc. Present subjunctive: ponga, pongas, ponga, pongamos, pongáis, pongan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): pusiera, pusieras, pusiera, pusiéramos, pusierais, pusieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): pusiese, pusieses, pusiese, pusiésemos, pusieseis, pusiesen (1)  Also compounds like componer ‘to compose’, imponer ‘to impose’, proponer ‘to propose’, d­ escomponer ‘to split something up’, suponer ‘to suppose’, etc. An accent is written on the tú imperative of these compounds, e.g. componer ‘to compose’ > compón, posponer ‘to postpone’ > pospón.

16.11.36  Poseer ‘to possess’ This verb and others like it, e.g. leer ‘to read’, creer ‘to believe’, requires that a y sound between vowels should be written y and not i. This is a spelling rule, not an irregularity: Gerund: poseyendo Past participle: poseído Imperative: (tú) posee, (vosotros) poseed, (usted) posea, (ustedes) posean Present indicative: poseo, posees, posee, poseemos, poseéis, poseen Imperfect (regular): poseía, poseías, poseía, poseíamos, poseíais, poseían

194 Forms of Spanish verbs Preterite: poseí, poseíste, poseyó, poseímos, poseísteis, poseyeron Future (regular): poseeré, etc.  Conditional (regular): poseería, etc. Present subjunctive: posea, poseas, posea, poseamos, poseáis, posean Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): poseyera, poseyeras, poseyera, poseyéramos, poseyerais, poseyeran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): poseyese, poseyeses, poseyese, poseyésemos, poseyeseis, poseyesen

16.11.37  Producir ‘to produce’ Conjugated like lucir except for the preterite and for forms based on the preterite stem. The preterite endings, and therefore the past and future subjunctive endings are -eron, -era, -ese, etc., not -ieron, -iera, -iese. Imperative: (tú) produce, (vosotros) producid, usted produzca, ustedes produzcan Present indicative: produzco, produces, produce, producimos, producís, producen Imperfect (regular): producía, etc. Preterite: produje, produjiste, produjo, produjimos, produjisteis, produjeron Future (regular): produciré, etc.  Conditional (regular): produciría, etc. Present subjunctive: produzca, produzcas, produzca, produzcamos, produzcáis, produzcan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): produjera, produjeras, produjera, produjéramos, produjerais, produjeran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): produjese, produjeses, produjese, produjésemos, produjeseis, produjesen (1)  Preterite forms like *produció, *conducí are common mistakes in popular speech, but they are stigmatized.

16.11.38  Querer ‘to want’/‘to love’ Gerund: queriendo  Past participle: querido Imperative (rarely used): (tú) quiere, (vosotros) quered, (usted) quiera, (ustedes) quieran Present indicative: quiero, quieres, quiere, queremos, queréis, quieren Imperfect (regular): quería, querías, quería, queríamos, queríais, querían Preterite: quise, quisiste, quiso, quisimos, quisisteis, quisieron Future: querré, querrás, querrá, querremos, querréis, querrán  Conditional: querría, etc. Present subjunctive: quiera, quieras, quiera, queramos, queráis, quieran Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): quisiera, quisieras, quisiera, quisiéramos, quisierais, quisieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): quisiese, quisieses, quisiese, quisiésemos, quisieseis, quisiesen

16.11.39  Reír ‘to laugh’ This verb is in fact conjugated in almost the same way as pedir, although the absence of a consonant between the vowels obscures the similarity: Gerund: riendo  Past participle: reído Imperative: (tú) ríe, (vosotros) reíd, (usted) ría, (ustedes) rían Present indicative: río, ríes, ríe, reímos, reís, ríen Imperfect (regular): reía, reías, reía, reíamos, reíais, reían Preterite: reí, reíste, rio,* reímos, reísteis, rieron Future (regular): reiré, reirás, reirá, reiremos, reiréis, reirán  Conditional (regular): reiría, etc. Present subjunctive: ría, rías, ría, riamos, riais*, rían Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): riera, rieras, riera, riéramos, rierais, rieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): riese, rieses, riese, riésemos, rieseis, riesen.

16.11  Model irregular and radical-changing verbs


*The Academy now recommends that these forms should be written without an accent. See 44.2.4. This applies only to reír and freír to ‘fry’. In other verbs whose infinitive ends in -eír the final vowel of the third-person singular preterite is written with an accent, e.g. sonrió, sofrió, etc.

16.11.40  Reñir ‘to scold’ This and other verbs in -eñir are conjugated like pedir, except that, as usual, ie > e and ió > ó after ñ; see 16.4.10. Only the forms that differ from pedir are shown, and bracketed forms are also regular Gerund: riñendo Preterite: (reñí), (reñiste), riñó, (reñimos), (reñisteis), riñeron Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): riñera, riñeras, riñera, riñéramos, riñerais, riñeran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): riñese, riñeses, riñese, riñésemos, riñeseis, riñesen

16.11.41  Roer ‘to gnaw’ The bracketed forms are little-used alternatives. In practice the first-person singular indicative is avoided and may be expressed by estoy royendo ‘I’m gnawing’. Gerund: royendo Past participle: roído Imperative: (tú) roe, (vosotros) roed, (usted) roa (roiga/roya), (ustedes) roan (roigan/royan) Present indicative: roo (roigo/royo; the Academy prefers roo), roes, roe, roemos, roéis, roen Imperfect (regular): roía, roías, roía, roíamos, roíais, roían Preterite: roí, roíste, royó, roímos, roísteis, royeron Future (regular): roeré, etc. Conditional (regular): roería, etc. Present subjunctive: roa (roiga/roya; the Academy prefers roa), roas (roigas/royas), roa (roiga/   roya), roamos (roigamos/royamos), roáis (roigáis/royáis), roan (roigan/royan) Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): royera, royeras, royera, royéramos, royerais, royeran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): royese, royeses, royese, royésemos, royeseis, royesen

16.11.42  Saber ‘to know’ Gerund: sabiendo Past participle: sabido Imperative (rarely used): (tú) sabe, (vosotros) sabed, (usted) sepa, (ustedes) sepan Present indicative: sé, sabes, sabe, sabemos, sabéis, saben Imperfect (regular): sabía, sabías, sabía, sabíamos, sabíais, sabían Preterite: supe, supiste, supo, supimos, supisteis, supieron Future: sabré, sabrás, sabrá, sabremos, sabréis, sabrán Conditional: sabría, etc. Present subjunctive: sepa, sepas, sepa, sepamos, sepáis, sepan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): supiera, supieras, supiera, supiéramos, supierais, supieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): supiese, supieses, supiese, supiésemos, supieseis, supiesen

16.11.43  Salir ‘to go out’/‘to leave’ Gerund: saliendo Past participle: salido Imperative: (tú) sal, (vosotros) salid, (usted) salga, (ustedes) salgan Present indicative: salgo, sales, sale, salimos, salís, salen Imperfect (regular): salía, salías, salía, etc. Preterite (regular): salí, saliste, salió, etc. Future: saldré, saldrás, saldrá, saldremos, saldréis, saldrán Conditional: saldría, etc. Present subjunctive: salga, salgas, salga, salgamos, salgáis, salgan

196 Forms of Spanish verbs Imperfect subjunctive (-ra) (regular): saliera, etc. Imperfect subjunctive (-se) (regular): saliese, etc.

16.11.44  Sentir ‘to feel’ A common type of -ir verb. The endings are regular, but the stem vowel changes to ie or to i in certain forms: Gerund: sintiendo Past participle sentido Imperative: (tú) siente, (usted) sienta, (vosotros sentid), (ustedes) sientan Present indicative: siento, sientes, siente, (sentimos), (sentís), sienten Preterite: (sentí), (sentiste), sintió, (sentimos), (sentisteis), sintieron Present subjunctive: sienta, sientas, sienta, sintamos, sintáis, sientan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): sintiera, sintieras, sintiera, sintiéramos, sintierais, sintieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): sintiese, sintieses, sintiese, sintiésemos, sintieseis, sintiesen

16.11.45  Ser ‘to be’ A very common verb with several irregularities. For its relationship with estar see Chapter 33. Its preterite and also the past subjunctive forms are the same as those of ir ‘to go’: Gerund: siendo Past participle: sido Imperative: (tú) sé (see note), (vosotros) sed, (usted) sea, (ustedes) sean Present indicative: soy, eres (see note 2) es, somos, sois, son Imperfect: era, eras, era, éramos, erais, eran Preterite: fui (no accent!), fuiste, fue (no accent!), fuimos, fuisteis, fueron Future (regular): seré, serás, será, seremos, seréis, serán Conditional (regular): sería, etc. Present subjunctive: sea, seas, sea, seamos, seáis, sean Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): fuera, fueras, fuera, fuéramos, fuerais, fueran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): fuese, fueses, fuese, fuésemos, fueseis, fuesen (1)  The accent on the imperative sé distinguishes it from the pronoun se. (2)  In Argentina and most other places where vos is used for tú, the present indicative form is sos: sos muy inteligente ‘you’re very intelligent’, i.e. eres muy inteligente.

16.11.46  Tener ‘to have’ Note the irregular preterite and future: Gerund: teniendo Past participle: tenido Imperative: (tú) ten, (vosotros) tened, (usted) tenga, (ustedes) tengan Present indicative: tengo, tienes, tiene, tenemos, tenéis, tienen Imperfect (regular): tenía, tenías, tenía, teníamos, teníais, tenían Preterite: tuve, tuviste, tuvo, tuvimos, tuvisteis, tuvieron Conditional: tendría, etc. Future: tendré, tendrás, tendrá, tendremos, tendréis, tendrán Present subjunctive: tenga, tengas, tenga, tengamos, tengáis, tengan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): tuviera, tuvieras, tuviera, tuviéramos, tuvierais, tuvieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): tuviese, tuvieses, tuviese, tuviésemos, tuvieseis, tuviesen (1)  The tú imperative of compounds like retener ‘to retain’, detener ‘to stop’, has an accent: retén, detén. The accent should be dropped if a pronoun is added: detente, retenlo, etc.

16.11  Model irregular and radical-changing verbs


16.11.47  Traer ‘to bring’ Gerund trayendo Past participle traído Imperative (tú) trae, (vosotros) traed, (usted) traiga, (ustedes) traigan Present indicative: traigo, traes, trae, traemos, traéis, traen Imperfect (regular): traía, traías, traía, traíamos, traíais, traían Preterite: traje, trajiste, trajo, trajimos, trajisteis, trajeron (not *trajieron) Future (regular): traeré, etc. Conditional (regular): traería, etc. Present subjunctive: traiga, traigas, traiga, traigamos, traigáis, traigan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): trajera, trajeras, trajera, trajéramos, trajerais, trajeran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): trajese, trajeses, trajese, trajésemos, trajeseis, trajesen (1)  The preterite truje, trujiste, etc., is found in Golden-Age texts and occasionally in dialects.

16.11.48  Valer ‘to be worth’ Gerund: valiendo Past participle: valido Imperative: (tú) vale, (vosotros) valed, (usted) valga, (ustedes) valgan Present indicative: valgo, vales, vale, valemos, valéis, valen Imperfect (regular): valía, valías, valía, valíamos, valíais, valían Preterite (regular): valí, valiste, valió, valimos, valisteis, valieron Future: valdré, valdrás, valdrá, valdremos, valdréis, valdrán Conditional: valdría, etc. Present subjunctive: valga, valgas, valga, valgamos, valgáis, valgan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): valiera, valieras, valiera, valiéramos, valierais, valieran Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): valiese, valieses, valiese, valiésemos, valieseis, valiesen

16.11.49  Venir ‘to come’ Gerund: viniendo Past participle: venido Imperative (tú) ven, (vosotros) venid, (usted) venga, (ustedes) vengan Present indicative: vengo, vienes, viene, venimos, venís, vienen Imperfect (regular): venía, venías, venía, veníamos, veníais, venían Preterite: vine, viniste, vino, vinimos, vinisteis, vinieron Future: vendré, vendrás, vendrá, vendremos, vendréis, vendrán Conditional: vendría, etc. Present subjunctive: venga, vengas, venga, vengamos, vengáis, vengan Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): viniera, vinieras, viniera, viniéramos, vinierais, vinieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): viniese, vinieses, viniese, viniésemos, vinieseis, viniesen (1)  The tú imperative and the third-person plural present indicative of compounds like prevenir‘to forewarn’/‘to forecast’ have an accent: se prevén tormentas intensas ‘intense storms are forecast’.

16.11.50  Ver ‘to see’ Gerund: viendo Past participle: visto Imperative: (tú) ve, (vosotros) ved, (usted) vea, (ustedes) vean Present indicative: veo, ves, ve, vemos, veis, ven Imperfect: veía, veías, veía, veíamos, veíais, veían Preterite: vi (no accent!), viste, vio (no accent!), vimos, visteis, vieron Future (regular): veré, etc. Conditional (regular): vería, etc. Present subjunctive: vea, veas, vea, veamos, veáis, vean

198 Forms of Spanish verbs Imperfect subjunctive (-ra): viera, vieras, viera, viéramos, vierais, vieran Imperfect subjunctive (-se): viese, vieses, viese, viésemos, vieseis, viesen (1)  The root verb is stressed in compound form in the first-person and third-person singular of the preterite and the third-person singular present indicative, e.g. entreví ‘I glimpsed’, entrevió ‘(s)he glimpsed’, prevé ‘(s)he foresees’, previó ‘(s)he foresaw’. (2)  The imperfect is slightly irregular since the expected forms would be *vía, *vías,*vía, etc.

16.11.51  Yacer ‘to lie’ (as in ‘he lay there’) (US ‘to lay’) Almost never used nowadays except on gravestones: estar tumbado, estar acostado are the usual translations. It is conjugated like agradecer (16.11.10), except for the alternative forms shown in brackets (regular forms sometimes appear in literary styles): Imperative: (usted) yazca (yaga/yazga), (ustedes) yazcan (yagan/yazgan) Present indicative: yazco (yago, yazgo), other persons regular Present subjunctive: yazca (yaga/yazga), etc.

16.12  List of irregular verbs A number of very rare verbs have been omitted, but this is no guarantee that all of the verbs listed are in common use today. Bracketed forms indicate verbs which are found in the infinitive or past participle forms, which are often the only surviving remains of the verbs that are otherwise obsolete (cf. aterirse). For verbs beginning with the prefix in re- that are not listed here see the root verb. abastecer: -cer 16.11.10 abolir: 16.11.2 aborrecer: -cer 16.11.10 abrir: past participle   abierto absolver: mover 16.11.28   past participle absuelto abstenerse: tener 16.11.46 abstraer: traer 16.11.47 acaecer: -cer 16.11.10 acertar: cerrar 16.11.11 acontecer: -cer 16.11.10 acordar: contar 16.11.14 acostar(se): contar 16.11.14 acrecentar: cerrar 16.11.11 adherir: sentir 16.11.44 adolecer: -cer 16.11.10 adormecer: -cer 16.11.10 adquirir: 16.11.3 aducir: producir 16.11.37 advertir: sentir 16.11.44 agradecer: -cer 16.11.10 agredir: 16.11.4 alentar: cerrar 16.11.11 almorzar: contar 16.11.14   z > c before e

amanecer. -cer 16.11.10 amoblar: contar 16.11.14, but   sometimes like amueblar:   reg. in Latin America andar: 16.11.5 anochecer: -cer 16.11.10 anteponer: poner 16.11.35 apacentar: cerrar 16.11.11 aparecer: -cer 16.11.10 apetecer: -cer 16.11.10 apostar: contar 16.11.14   reg. in meaning ‘to   post a sentry’ apretar: cerrar 16.11.11 aprobar: contar 16.11.14 argüir: construir 16.11.13 (arrecirse: abolir 16.11.2) arrendar: cerrar 16.11.11 arrepentirse: sentir 16.11.44 ascender: perder 16.11.32 asentar: cerrar 16.11.11 asentir: sentir 16.11.44 asir: 16.11.6 asolar: contar 16.11.14 if it   means ‘to parch’, but   Academy allows regular

  conjugation for all  meanings atañer: see 16.4.10 atender: perder 16.11.32 atenerse: tener 16.11.46 aterrar: like cerrar 16.11.11   when = ‘to knock down’,   reg. when = ‘to terrify’ (aterirse: abolir 16.11.2) atraer: traer 16.11.47 atravesar: cerrar 16.11.11 atribuir: construir  16.11.13 avenir: venir 16.11.49 aventar: cerrar 16.11.11 avergonzar: contar 16.11.14   z > c before e: diphthong  spelt üe, e.g: subjunctive   avergüence, etc. balbucir: 16.11.7 bendecir: maldecir 16.11.27 (blandir: abolir 16.11.2) bruñir: gruñir see 16.4.10, bullir: zambullir(se) see  16.4.10 caber: 16.11.8

16.12  List of irregular verbs

caer: 16.11.9 calentar: cerrar 16.11.11 carecer: -cer 16.11.10 cegar: cerrar 16.11.11  g > gu before e ceñir: reñir 16.11.40 cerner: perder 16.11.32 cernir: discernir 16.11.17 cerrar: 16.11.11 circunscribir: irreg. past   participle circunscrito cocer: 16.11.12 colar: contar 16.11.14 colegir: pedir 16.11.31  -g > j before a, o colgar: contar 16.11.14  g > gu before e comenzar: cerrar 16.11.11  z > c before e compadecer: -cer 16.11.10 comparecer: -cer 16.11.10 competir: pedir 16.11.31 complacer: -cer 16.11.10 componer: poner 16.11.35 comprobar: contar 16.11.14 concebir: pedir 16.11.31 concernir: discernir 16.11.17 concertar: cerrar 16.11.11 concluir: construir 16.11.13 concordar: contar 16.11.14 condescender: perder  16.11.32 condolerse: mover 16.11.28 conducir: producir 16.11.37 conferir: sentir 16.11.44 confesar: cerrar 16.11.11 confluir: construir 16.11.13 conmover: mover 16.11.28 conocer: -cer 16.11.10 conseguir: pedir 16.11.31  gu > g before a, o consentir: sentir 16.11.44 consolar: contar 16.11.14 consonar: contar 16.11.14 constituir: construir 16.11.13 constreñir: reñir 16.11.40 construir: 16.11.13 contar: 16.11.14 contender: perder 16.11.32 contener: tener 16.11.46 contradecir: 16.11.16 contraer: traer 16.11.47

contrahacer: hacer 16.11.23 contraponer: poner 16.11.35 contravenir: venir 16.11.49 contribuir: construir 16.11.13 controvertir: sentir 16.11.44 convalecer: -cer 16.11.10 convenir: venir 16.11.49 convertir: sentir 16.11.44 corregir: pedir 16.11.31   g > j before a, o corroer: roer 16.11.41 costar: contar 16.11.14 crecer: -cer 16.11.10 creer: poseer 16.11.36 cubrir: irreg. past part:   cubierto dar: 16.11.15 decaer: caer 16.11.9 decir: 16.11.16 decrecer: -cer 16.11.10 deducir: producir 16.11.37 defender: perder 16.11.32 deferir: sentir 16.11.44 degollar: contar 16.11.14   diphthong spelt üe demoler: mover 16.11.28 demostrar: contar 16.11.14 denegar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e denostar: contar 16.11.14 deponer: poner 16.11.35 derretir: pedir 16.11.31 derrocar: nowadays   regular: c > qu before e desacertar: cerrar 16.11.11 desacordar: contar 16.11.14 desagradecer: -cer 16.11.10 desalentar: cerrar 16.11.11 desandar: andar 16.11.5 desaparecer: -cer 16.11.10 desapretar: cerrar 16.11.11 desaprobar: contar 16.11.14 desasosegar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e desatender: perder 16.11.32 desavenir: venir 16.11.49 descender: perder 16.11.32 desceñir: reñir 16.11.40 descolgar: contar 16.11.14   g > gu before e descollar: contar 16.11.14 descomponer: poner 16.11.35


desconcertar: cerrar 16.11.11 desconocer: -cer 16.11.10 desconsolar: contar 16.11.14 descontar: contar 16.11.14 desconvenir: venir 16.11.49 describir: past participle   descrito descubrir: past participle   descubierto desdecir: 16.11.16 desempedrar: cerrar 16.11.11 desengrosar: contar 16.11.14 desentenderse: perder  16.11.32 desenterrar: cerrar 16.11.11 desenvolver: mover 16.11.28   past part: desenvuelto desfallecer: -cer 16.11.10 desgobernar: cerrar 16.11.11 deshacer: hacer 16.11.23 deshelar: cerrar 16.11.11 desherrar: cerrar 16.11.11 desleír: reír 16.11.39 deslucir: lucir 16.11.26 desmembrar: cerrar 16.11.11 desmentir: sentir 16.11.44 desmerecer: -cer 16.11.10 desobedecer: -cer 16.11.10 desoír: oír 16.11.29 desollar: contar 16.11.14 despedir: pedir 16.11.31 despedrar: cerrar 16.11.11 despertar: cerrar 16.11.11 despezar: cerrar 16.11.11   usually despiezar,  reg. z > c before e desplacer: -cer 16.11.10 desplegar: cerrar 16.11.11  g > gu before e; now often  regular despoblar: contar 16.11.14 desproveer: poseer 16.11.36   past participle  desprovisto/desproveído desteñir: reñir 16.11.40 desterrar: cerrar 16.11.11 destituir: construir 16.11.13 destruir: construir 16.11.13 desvanecer: -cer 16.11.10 desvergonzarse: contar  16.11.14 z > c before e;   diphthong spelt üe

200 Forms of Spanish verbs detener: tener 16.11.46 detraer: traer 16.11.47 devenir: 16.11.49 devolver: mover 16.11.28   past participle devuelto diferir: sentir 16.11.44 digerir: sentir 16.11.44 diluir: construir 16.11.13 discernir: 16.11.17 disentir: sentir 16.11.44 disminuir: construir 16.11.13 disolver: mover 16.11.28;   past participle disuelto disponer: poner 16.11.35 distender: perder 16.11.32 distraer: traer 16.11.47 distribuir: construir 16.11.13 divertir: sentir 16.11.44 doler: mover 16.11.28 dormir: 16.11.18 elegir: pedir 16.11.31   g > j before a, o embebecer: -cer 16.11.10 embellecer: -cer 16.11.10 embestir: pedir 16.11.31 embravecer: -cer 16.11.10 embrutecer: -cer 16.11.10 empedrar: cerrar 16.11.11 empequeñecer: -cer 16.11.10 empezar: cerrar 16.11.11   z > c before e empobrecer: -cer 16.11.10 enaltecer: -cer 16.11.10 enardecer: -cer 16.11.10 encanecer: -cer 16.11.10 encarecer: -cer 16.11.10 encender: perder 16.11.32 encerrar: cerrar 16.11.11 encomendar: cerrar 16.11.11 encontrar: contar 16.11.14 encubrir: past participle   encubierto endurecer: -cer 16.11.10 enflaquecer: -cer 16.11.10 enfurecer: -cer 16.11.10 engrandecer: -cer 16.11.10 engreírse: reír 16.11.39 engrosar: contar 16.11.14   now often reg. Academy   prefers irreg. conjugation engullir: zambullir see 16.4.10 enloquecer: -cer 16.11.10

enmendar: cerrar 16.11.11 enmohecer: -cer 16.11.10 enmudecer: -cer 16.11.10 ennegrecer: -cer 16.11.10 ennoblecer: -cer 16.11.10 enorgullecer: -cer 16.11.10 enriquecer: -cer 16.11.10 enronquecer: -cer 16.11.10 ensangrentar: cerrar 16.11.11 ensoberbecer(se)-cer 16.11.10 ensordecer: -cer 16.11.10 entender: perder 16.11.32 enternecer: -cer 16.11.10 enterrar: cerrar 16.11.11 entreabrir: past participle  entreabierto entredecir: decir 16.11.16 entreoír: oír 16.11.29 entretener: tener 16.11.46 entrever: ver 16.11.50 entristecer: -cer 16.11.10 entumecer(se)-cer: 16.11.10 envanecer: -cer 16.11.10 envejecer: -cer 16.11.10 envilecer: -cer 16.11.10 envolver: mover 16.11.28   past participle envuelto equivaler: valer 16.11.48 erguir: 16.11.19 errar: 16.11.20 escabullirse: zambullirse see   16.4.10 escarmentar: cerrar 16.11.11 escarnecer: -cer 16.11.10 escocer: cocer 16.11.12 escribir: past participle   escrito esforzar. contar 16.11.14  z > c before e establecer: -cer 16.11.10 estar: 16.11.21 estremecer: -cer 16.11.10 estreñir: reñir 16.11.40 excluir: construir 16.11.13 expedir: pedir 16.11.31 exponer: poner 16.11.35 extender: perder 16.11.32 extraer: traer 16.11.47 fallecer: -cer 16.11.10 favorecer: -cer 16.11.10 florecer: -cer 16.11.10 fluir: construir 16.11.13

fortalecer: -cer 16.11.10 forzar: contar 16.11.14   z > c before e fregar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e freír: reír 16.11.39   past participle freído/frito gemir: pedir 16.11.31 gobernar: cerrar 16.11.11 gruñir: see 16.4.10 guarecer: -cer 16.11.10 guarnecer: -cer 16.11.10 haber: 16.11.22 hacer: 16.11.23 heder: perder 16.11.32 helar: cerrar 16.11.11 henchir: pedir 16.11.31 hender: perder 16.11.32 hendir: discernir 16.11.17 herir: sentir 16.11.44 herrar: cerrar 16.11.11 hervir: sentir 16.11.44 holgar: contar 16.11.14   g > gu before e hollar: contar 16.11.14 huir: construir 16.11.13 humedecer: -cer 16.11.10 impedir: pedir 16.11.31 imponer: poner 16.11.35   imp: sing: impón incensar: cerrar 16.11.11 incluir: construir 16.11.13 indisponer: poner 16.11.35 inducir: producir 16.11.37 inferir: sentir 16.11.44 influir: construir 16.11.13 ingerir: sentir 16.11.44 injerir: sentir 16.11.44 inquirir: adquirir 16.11.3 inscribir: past participle   escrito instituir: construir 16.11.13 instruir: construir 16.11.13 interferir: sentir 16.11.44 interponer: poner 16.11.35 intervenir: venir 16.11.49 introducir: producir 16.11.37 intuir: construir 16.11.13 invernar: cerrar 16.11.11   Academy prefers   regular conjugation invertir: sentir 16.11.44

16.12  List of irregular verbs

investir: pedir 16.11.31 ir: 16.11.24 jugar: 16.11.25 languidecer: -cer 16.11.10 leer: poseer 16.11.36 llover: mover 16.11.28 lucir: 16.11.26 maldecir: 16.11.27 manifestar: cerrar 16.11.11 mantener: tener 16.11.46 medir: pedir 16.11.31 mentar: cerrar 16.11.11 (often  regular) mentir: sentir 16.11.44 merecer: -cer 16.11.10 merendar: cerrar 16.11.11 moler: mover 16.11.28 morder: mover 16.11.28 morir: 16.11.18 mostrar: contar 16.11.14 mover: 16.11.28 mullir: zambullir see   16.4.10 nacer: -cer 16.11.10 negar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e nevar: cerrar 16.11.11 obedecer: -cer 16.11.10 obscurecer: -cer 16.11.10 obstruir: construir 16.11.13 obtener: tener 16.11.46 ofrecer: -cer 16.11.10 oír: 16.11.29 oler: 16.11.30 oponer: poner 16.11.35 oscurecer: -cer 16.11.10  (obscurecer is an older  spelling) pacer: -cer 16.11.10 padecer: -cer 16.11.10 palidecer: -cer 16.11.10 parecer: -cer 16.11.10 pedir: 16.11.31 pensar: cerrar 16.11.11 perecer: -cer 16.11.10 permanecer: -cer 16.11.10 perseguir: pedir 16.11.31   gu > g before a, o pertenecer: -cer 16.11.10 pervertir: sentir 16.11.44 placer: 16.11.33 plegar: cerrar 16.11.11

  g > gu before e poblar: contar 16.11.14 poder: 16.11.34 podrir: variant of pudrir,   accepted in Lat. Am.   rare in Spain: -u- used   for all other forms   save past part: podrido poner: 16.11.35 poseer: 16.11.36 posponer: poner 16.11.35  tú imperative pospón predecir: 16.11.16 predisponer: poner 16.11.35 preferir: sentir 16.11.44 prescribir: past participle  prescrito presuponer: poner 16.11.35 prevalecer: -cer 16.11.10 prevaler: valer 16.11.48 prevenir: venir 16.11.49 prever: ver 16.11.50 probar: contar 16.11.14 producir: 16.11.37 proferir: sentir 16.11.44 promover: mover 16.11.28 proponer: poner 16.11.35 proseguir: pedir 16.11.31  gu > g before a prostituir: construir  16.11.13 proveer: poseer 16.11.36   past participle provisto/  proveído provenir: venir 16.11.49 pudrir: regular; see also  podrir quebrar: cerrar 16.11.11 querer: 16.11.38 raer: caer 16.11.9 (rayo is a   rarer alternative to raigo) reaparecer: -cer 16.11.10 reblandecer: -cer 16.11.10 recaer: caer 16.11.9 recluir: construir 16.11.13 recocer: cocer 16.11.12 recomendar: cerrar 16.11.11 reconocer: -cer 16.11.10 reconvenir: venir 16.11.49 recordar: contar 16.11.14 recostar(se): contar 16.11.14 reducir: producir 16.11.37


reelegir: pedir 16.11.31  g > j before a, o referir: sentir 16.11.44 reforzar: contar 16.11.14   z > c before e refregar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e regar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e regimentar: cerrar 16.11.11   also regular regir: pedir 16.11.31   g > j before a, o rehacer: hacer 16.11.23 rehuir: construir 16.11.13 reír: 16.11.39 rejuvenecer: -cer 16.11.10 remendar: cerrar 16.11.11 remorder: mover 16.11.28 remover: mover 16.11.28 rendir: pedir 16.11.31 renegar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e renovar: contar 16.11.14 reñir: 16.11.40 repetir: pedir 16.11.31 replegar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e repoblar: contar 16.11.14 reponer: poner 16.11.35 reprobar: contar 16.11.14 reproducir: producir 16.11.37 requebrar: cerrar 16.11.11 requerir: sentir 16.11.44 resentirse: sentir 16.11.44 resollar: contar 16.11.14 resolver: mover 16.11.28   past participle resuelto resonar: contar 16.11.14 resplandecer: -cer 16.11.10 restablecer: -cer 16.11.10 restituir: construir 16.11.13 restregar: cerrar 16.11.11  g > gu before e retemblar: cerrar 16.11.11 retener: tener 16.11.46 reteñir: reñir 16.11.40 retorcer: cocer 16.11.12  c > z before a, o retraer: traer 16.11.47 retribuir: construir 16.11.13 retrotraer: traer 16.11.47

202 Forms of Spanish verbs reventar: cerrar 16.11.11 reverdecer: -cer 16.11.10 reverter: perder 16.11.32 revestir: pedir 16.11.31 revolar: contar 16.11.14 revolcar(se) contar 16.11.14   c > qu before e revolver: mover 16.11.28   past participle revuelto robustecer: -cer 16.11.10 rodar: contar 16.11.14 roer: 16.11.41 rogar: contar 16.11.14   g > gu before e romper: past participle   roto saber: 16.11.42 salir: 16.11.43 satisfacer: hacer 16.11.23 seducir: producir 16.11.37 segar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e seguir: pedir 16.11.31   gu > g before a or o sembrar: cerrar 16.11.11 sentar: cerrar 16.11.11 sentir: 16.11.44 ser: 16.11.45 serrar: cerrar 16.11.11 servir: pedir 16.11.31 sobre(e)ntender:   perder 16.11.32 sobreponer: poner 16.11.35 sobresalir: salir 16.11.43 sobrevenir: venir 16.11.49 sofreír: reír 16.11.39, past

  participle sofrito soldar: contar 16.11.14 soler: mover 16.11.28   future, conditional and   past and future   subjunctives not used soltar: contar 16.11.14 sonar: contar 16.11.14 sonreír: reír 16.11.39 soñar: contar 16.11.14 sosegar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e sostener: tener 16.11.46 soterrar: cerrar 16.11.11 subarrendar: cerrar  16.11.11 subscribir: see suscribir subvenir: venir 16.11.49 subvertir: sentir 16.11.44 sugerir: sentir 16.11.44 suponer: poner 16.11.35 suscribir past participle  suscrito sustituir: construir  16.11.13 sustraer: traer 16.11.47 tañer: see 16.4.10 temblar: cerrar 16.11.11 templar usually regular   but often like   cerrar 16.11.11 in Mex: tender: perder 16.11.32 tener: 16.11.46 tentar: cerrar 16.11.11 teñir: reñir 16.11.40 torcer: cocer 16.11.12

  c > z before a, o tostar: contar 16.11.14 traducir: producir 16.11.37 traer: 16.11.47 transcribir: past participle   transcrito transferir: sentir 16.11.44 transgredir: 16.11.4 transponer: poner 16.11.35 trascender: perder 16.11.32 trasegar: cerrar 16.11.11   g > gu before e traslucir: lucir 16.11.26 trasponer: poner 16.11.35 trastrocar: contar 16.11.14   c > qu before e trocar: contar 16.11.14   c > qu before e tronar: contar 16.11.14 tropezar: cerrar 16.11.11   z > c before e tullir: see 16.4.10 valer: 16.11.48 venir: 16.11.49 ver: 16.11.50 verter: perder 16.11.32 vestir: pedir 16.11.31 volar: contar 16.11.14 volcar: contar 16.11.14   c > qu before e volver: mover 16.11.28   past participle vuelto yacer: 16.11.51 zaherir: sentir 16.11.44 zambullir: see 16.4.10, item 6

16.13  The formation of the compound tenses The forms of the compound tenses are completely predictable provided one knows the full conjugation of haber (16.11.22) and the past participle of the verb: The conjugation of the compound tenses of ver ‘to see’ is shown here as an example: Note the irregular past participle, visto: INDICATIVE Perfect ‘I have seen’, etc.

Pluperfect ‘I had seen’, etc.

he visto has visto ha visto

había visto habías visto había visto

hemos visto habéis visto han visto

habíamos visto habíais visto habían visto

16.13  The formation of the compound tenses

Future perfect ‘I shall have seen’, etc.

Conditional ‘I would have seen’, etc.

habré visto habrás visto habrá visto

habría visto habrías visto habría visto

habremos visto habréis visto habrán visto

habríamos visto habríais visto habrían visto

Pretérito anterior ‘I had seen’, etc. (infrequently used. See 18.4) hube visto hubiste visto hubo visto

hubimos visto hubisteis visto hubieron visto SUBJUNCTIVE

Perfect haya visto hayas visto haya visto

hayamos visto hayáis visto hayan visto

Imperfect -ra form hubiera visto hubiéramos visto hubieras visto hubierais visto hubiera visto hubieran visto

-se form hubiese visto hubieses visto hubiese visto

hubiésemos visto hubieseis visto hubiesen visto


17 Use of indicative (non-continuous) verb tenses The indicative tenses discussed in this chapter are: • • • • •

The present tense (hablo, vamos, etc.) (Section 17.3) The preterite tense (hablé, fuimos, etc.) (Section 17.4) The imperfect tense (hablaba, íbamos, etc.) (Section 17.5) The future tense (hablaré, iré, etc.) (Section 17.6) The conditional tense (hablaría, iría, etc.) (Section 17.7)

Continuous verb forms (estoy hablando, estamos trabajando, etc.) are discussed in Chapter 19. The subjunctive is discussed in Chapter 20. The compound indicative tenses – he hablado, había visto, hubo hecho, habrá escrito, habría ido, hubiera pensado, etc. – are discussed separately in Chapter 18. The forms of regular and irregular verbs are shown in Chapter 16.

17.1 Names of the tenses There is little agreement among grammarians about the names of the Spanish tenses. Another source of confusion for English speakers is the fact that pretérito simply means ‘past’ (las glorias pretéritas = ‘bygone/past glories’), whereas the English ‘preterite’ (US ‘preterit’) refers to a specific Spanish past tense. Common variants are listed below; the Academy’s current usage is in bold: Name used in this book


Spanish names

Present indicative

hablas, tienes

presente de indicativo

Imperfect indicative

hablaba, tenías

pretérito imperfecto, copretérito


hablé, tuviste

pretérito perfecto simple, pretérito indefinido, pretérito, perfecto absoluto

Perfect indicative

he hablado, has tenido

pretérito perfecto compuesto, pretérito perfecto actual, antepresente

Pluperfect indicative

había hablado, habías tenido

pretérito pluscuamperfecto, antecopretérito

Future indicative

hablaré, tendrás

futuro simple, futuro imperfecto


hablaría, tendrías

condicional simple, pospretérito, potencial, futuro hipotético

17.2 Tense in Spanish: general remarks The following points are important: (a) The name ‘present tense’ for forms like hablo, voy, is misleading since this form can also express future, past, and timeless statements. See 17.3.

17.3  Uses of the present indicative tense


(b)  The name ‘future tense’ for forms like hablaré, irá, is misleading since it can also be used for suppositions and estimates, and there is also more than one way of expressing the future. See17.6. (c)  The difference between the imperfect and the preterite tenses, e.g. between hablaba and hablé, may confuse English speakers since both can be translated by the English simple past, e.g. ‘I spoke’, even though they mean different things: see 17.4. (d)  Spanish resembles English and differs from French, German and Italian in having a full range of continuous forms: está lloviendo ‘it’s raining’, estabas pensando ‘you were thinking’, he estado comiendo ‘I have been eating’. However, the similarity to the English progressive forms (‘I’m going’, ‘you’re waiting’, etc.) is misleading; see 19.1.2 for details. (e)  The difference in meaning between the preterite hablé ‘I spoke’ and the perfect he hablado ‘I have spoken’ is respected in Spanish and English, but blurred or lost in spoken French, Italian and German. However, the relationship between the Spanish tenses is not exactly the same as between ‘I spoke’ and ‘I have spoken’: see particularly 18.2. Use of the perfect tense is also much affected by regional variations.

17.3  Uses of the present indicative tense For the use of the present indicative in conditional sentences, e.g. si sales, compra pan ‘if you goout, buy some bread’, see 29.1–2. For the use of the present indicative as a future tense see17.6.3.

17.3.1 Present indicative tense to indicate timeless or habitual events that still occur The present indicative tense is used to express eternal or timeless truths, or habitual states or events that are still occurring in the present: Llueve mucho en Irlanda Fumo más de cuarenta al día Marta es venezolana Tengo tarjeta de crédito Me deprime comer sola (CMG, Sp.) Yo me sé de memoria tus chistecitos

It rains a lot in Ireland I smoke more than forty a day Marta’s Venezuelan I have a credit card Eating on my own depresses me I know your feeble jokes by heart

(ES, Mex., dialogue. See 30.2.1 note 3 for this use of me) (1)  As in English, use of a continuous tense for a habitual event can make it in some way ­unusual, surprising or temporary, i.e. not necessarily a habit: Alicia estaba bebiendo más últimamente (GZ,Mex.) ‘Alicia was drinking more lately’, estás fumando mucho ‘you’re smoking a lot (lately)’.

17.3.2  The present indicative tense for events happening now The Spanish non-continuous present indicative can also show that an action is actually happening now: duermen means ‘they are sleeping’ as well as ‘they sleep’. English speakers are often confused by this overlap with the continuous: to say ‘he comes’ for ‘he is coming’ sounds archaic.

206 Use of indicative ­(non-­continuous) verb tenses See Chapter 19 for more on this point. The following examples show that there is often only a slight difference between the simple present and the continuous present: Escribe/Está escribiendo una novela ¿Qué haces?/¿Qué estás haciendo? (they   mean the same when they express  surprise) Nieva/Está nevando (but see 19.1.3) La puerta necesita/está necesitando una   mano de pintura (from NGLE 23.5f)

(S)he’s writing a novel What are you doing? It’s snowing The door needs a coat of paint

In the last example, the NGLE notes that the continuous form makes the need more urgent.

17.3.3  Present indicative used for states as opposed to actions The simple present, not the continuous, is normally used for states rather than actions, e.g. parece cansada ‘she seems tired/she’s looking tired’, brilla la luna ‘the moon is shining’. See 19.3b for discussion.

17.3.4  Present tense used for very recent or imminent events The simple present is much used for events that happen in the present but are not necessarily actually in progress now, e.g. for imminent or very recent events: Me caso I’m getting married ¿Qué dices? (= ¿qué estás diciendo? when What did you say (just then)?’ or ‘What   indignation or surprise are intended)   do you say?’ or ‘What are you saying?’ ¡Que me ahogo/caigo! I’m drowning/falling! ¡Ya voy! I’m coming! Merino pasa la pelota a Andreas Merino passes the ball to Andreas ¿Vienes? Are you coming? (1) Important: in the above examples the events are either imminent or have just happened. English speakers constantly misuse the Spanish continuous for this sort of statement, as in ?mi hermano se está casando ‘my brother’s getting married’ when they mean se casa or se va a casar. See 19.1.2–3 for further discussion.

17.3.5 The presente histórico or historic present The present tense is used much more than in English to refer to the past as a way of dramatizing a story. This device is common in popular English (‘Annie walks in and says to me . . .’) and it may sound unfortunate in formal English styles, but it is common in both literary and spoken Spanish: ¿Cuántos pozos quedan por los alrededores? ‘How many wells are there left round here?’    — Sólo dos por ver —el rastreador hace un   ‘Only two left to inspect.’ The tracker    gesto escéptico—: No creo que valga la pena—.   makes a sceptical gesture. ‘I don’t think    No importa, verifiquen —lo interrumpe el   it’s worth the trouble.’ ‘It doesn’t matter.   capitán—. Tienen que estar de vuelta antes   Check them.’ the captain interrupts him   de que oscurezca, sargento.   ‘You’ve got to be back before it gets dark, Bueno, pues me llama y me dice que por qué Anyway, he calls me and asks me   no nos vemos. ¿Vernos? ¿Dónde?, le digo   why we don’t meet. ‘Meet!?   yo. En cualquier sitio, me dice. Pero, ¿qué   Where?’, I say to him. ‘Anywhere,’   es lo que les pasa a tus amiguitas?, le   he says. ‘But what’s happening to

17.3  Uses of the present indicative tense

digo. Es que no son tan guapas como tú,   me dice. A buenas horas lo has descubierto,   le digo (SP, Sp., dialogue. Woman about   her ex-husband)   


your lady friends?’ I say to him. ‘Actually they’re not as attractive as you,’ he tells me. ‘A fine time to discover that,’ I say to him

(1)  As in English, this use of the historic present is frequent in headlines: el Papa carga contra el laicismo de España ‘(El País, Sp.) ‘Pope attacks secularism of Spain’ (he had done this the day before), Perfecciona mexicano cirugía fetal (La Reforma, Mex.) ‘Mexican perfects foetal surgery’. (2)  The historic present is almost always used after por poco ‘all but/nearly’ (in Mexico often por poco y . . .), and often after casi ‘nearly’: me caí por unas escaleras y por poco/casi me rompo el tobillo ‘I fell down some stairs and nearly broke my ankle’, casi me mata, lo cual no era nada difícil por aquel entonces (ABE, Pe.) ‘she nearly killed me, which wasn’t at all difficult at that time’, por poquito y no me caso (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘I very nearly didn’t get married’. Exceptions can be found on both continents: por poco me hizo llorar de lo cariñosa que es (MVLl, Pe., dialogue) ‘she’s so affectionate she nearly made me cry’. (3)  A kind of historic present can occur in contexts in which the meaning is ‘not yet’. Standing on the platform, one could say el tren no llega ‘the train’s not here yet’ for no ha llegado todavía (in parts of Latin America . . . no llegó todavía). This use of the present in such sentences is common in Chile and Argentina, but less common elsewhere (NGLE 23.6i).

17.3.6  Present tense used as an imperative This is frequently used in everyday speech to make strong orders: tú te callas ‘you just keep quiet’. All matters connected with the imperative are discussed in Chapter 21.

17.3.7  Use of the present to ask permission The present is much used when asking for someone’s consent: ¿Te lo mando yo? Shall/Should I send it to you? ¿Escribo a los abuelos? Should I write to our grandparents? ¿Nos vamos?, preguntó él, y ella en respuesta ‘Shall we go?’ he asked, and in reply she le tomó la mano y sin soltársela salieron del took his hand and without letting go of it   restaurante (EP, Mex. dialogue)   they left the restaurant.

17.3.8  Use of the present as a future tense Spanish makes constant use of the simple present to refer to the future: mañana vamos a California ‘we’re going to California tomorrow’, te veo luego ‘I’ll see you later’. See 17.6.3.

17.3.9 Present in sentences like ‘it’s the first time I’ve seen him’ and other expressions of time English uses the perfect in sentences of the type ‘this is the first time that . . .’ and ‘I’ve been . . . for n days/weeks’, etc. Spanish uses the present: Es la primera vez que la veo It’s the first time I’ve seen her Desde hace dos días estoy tratando de I’ve been trying to contact Mr Morales   comunicarme con el señor Morales   for two days  (Prensalibre, Guat., dialogue)

208 Use of indicative ­(non-­continuous) verb tenses The past tense used in such constructions is the imperfect: see 17.5.3. See 36.2 for more on the tenses used in expressions of time.

17.4  The preterite: general remarks The Spanish preterite describes events that were completed in the past or are viewed as completed in the past (see 17.4.3 for the reason for this distinction). Occasionally it highlights the fact that an event is beginning in the past: see 17.4.7. English constantly fails to distinguish the preterite from the imperfect: ‘I drank’ may be bebí – bebí el café de un tirón ‘I drank my/the coffee in one gulp’ – or bebía: estuve pensando mientras bebía el café ‘I was thinking as I drank (i.e. ‘was drinking’) my/the coffee’. Some students seem to think that the preterite refers to events that are ‘further in the past’ than the imperfect, but both preterite and imperfect tenses are past tenses. The difference is not a question of recency versus remoteness: los pterodáctilos tenían alas ‘pterodactyls had wings’ is correct; *. . . tuvieron alas is not. The preterite is used in many varieties of Latin-American Spanish where the perfect tense is used in Spain and in some other countries, e.g. Peru and Bolivia: Miguel no llegó todavía sounds Latin-American to persons from Central Spain who say . . . no ha llegado todavía just as ‘they didn’t arrive yet’ sounds American to Britons who say ‘they haven’t arrived yet’. See 18.2 for discussion. (1) Technical note: many grammarians describe the preterite as ‘perfective’ in aspect (i.e. it denotes completion of an event). The Academy considers that aspect plays an important part in the grammar of the Spanish verb (NGLE 23.2c), but some linguists deny this. Whatever the truth of the matter, we avoid the terms ‘perfective’ and ‘imperfective’ aspect on the grounds that they may confuse learners, as explained at 17.4.3.

17.4.1 Preterite used to indicate single events or states or sets of events or states completed in the past A single completed past event or state, or a set of completed past events or states, is expressed by the preterite. This is the basic use of the preterite: La Segunda Guerra Mundial empezó en 1939 World War Two began in 1939 Hubo una explosión There was an explosion Donde antes hubo césped, ahora había una tierra Where once there was a lawn there was   resquebrajada y seca (RM, Sp.)   now a patch of broken, dry earth A nadie le gusta contratar a un hombre que No one likes to hire a man who was/has   estuvo en la cárcel (EM, Mex., dialogue)   been in jail Lo primero que escribí fue un cuento (AGa, Sp.) The first thing I wrote was a short story Martín la llamó cuatro veces Martín called her four times Lo escribió ochenta veces (S)he wrote it eighty times (1)  The preterite is used to describe a series of completed events that occurred separately (in whichever order), as in di un paseo, fui a casa, sentí miedo, y aquí estoy (LS, Ch., dialogue) ‘I went for a walk, went home, felt scared, and here I am’. In lists of events the imperfect tense suggests that they occurred simultaneously or habitually. Compare lloraba, gritaba, se reía . . . ‘(s)he was ­weeping, shouting, laughing’ (at the same time) or ‘(s)he used to weep’, etc.

17.4  The preterite: general remarks


(2) The ‘historic present’ – Laura entra y me dice . . .‘Laura comes in and says to me . . .’ – can also be used for completed events, but it is either literary in style or colloquial. See 17.3.5. (3)  The imperfect is occasionally also used in newspaper language for single completed events. See 17.5.8. (4) Compare lo hicimos tres veces ‘we did it three times’ and lo hacíamos tres veces ‘we used to do it three times’. The latter does not refer to a specific total number of events.

17.4.2  Preterite for events occurring throughout a finite period The preterite tense must be used for events that continued throughout a finite period of time. By ‘finite’ is meant a period of time of a specific length, i.e. one whose beginning and end are stated or clearly implied: Estuve destinado en Bilbao dos años I was stationed in Bilbao for two years Durante el viaje, Eugenio estuvo muy During the journey Eugenio was very  comunicativo (SP, Spain).   communicative Los dinosaurios reinaron sobre la tierra The dinosaurs reigned on earth for millions   durante millones de años   of years Te olvidas de los años que trabajamos juntos You’re forgetting the years we worked together Durante esos días Lorenzo se sintió muy cerca During those days Lorenzo felt very close   de Erro (EP, Mex.)   to Erro Durante años no pudimos hablar de otra cosa For years we could talk of nothing else   (GGM, Col., dialogue) La fiesta fue un éxito The party was a success (from start to finish) Fue un día magnífico It was a magnificent day (from start to finish) (1) Important: the question is whether the period ended, not the action: habló durante dos horas, y luego continuó hablando durante tres horas más ‘(s)he talked for two hours and then went on talking for three more hours’ is possible. For the optional alternative estuvo hablando durante dos horas see 19.2.3. (2)  Compare the last two examples in the columns with cuando llegué vi que la fiesta era/estaba siendo un éxito ‘when I arrived I saw that the party was a success’ (it wasn’t over yet), and como hacía un día magnífico, fuimos al zoo ‘as it was a lovely day, we went to the zoo’ (but it may have rained later in the day). (3)  Words like siempre and nunca often indicate actions or states continuing throughout the whole of a period of time: siempre procuré pasarlo bien ‘I always tried to have a good time’, siempre estuve muy agradecido con él (EM, Mex., dialogue) ‘I was always very grateful to him’, nunca Fermín Eguren me pudo ver (JLB, Arg., dialogue) ‘Fermín Eguren never was able to stand me’ (i.e. throughout the time I’m referring to, but his hostility may still last into the present). But they may refer to habitual actions that occur over no specified period and therefore require the imperfect, as in antes siempre ibas a misa ‘you always used to go to Mass’, nunca hacía tanto calor como ahora ‘it never used to be as hot as now’. (4)  In sentences involving phrases like todos los días, todos los años, either tense may be possible: see the next section. (5)  Actions performed throughout a period of time can be habitual, in which case the imperfect is used, as in hablaba durante tres horas (or solía hablar durante tres horas) ‘(s)he used to speak for three hours’, i.e. on an unspecified number of different occasions, Mario siempre se quedaba tres

210 Use of indicative ­(non-­continuous) verb tenses días en mi casa ‘Mario always stayed at my house for three days’, also an unspecified number of occasions.

17.4.3  Use of the preterite to denote habitual events The imperfect tense is usually used to describe habitual events in the past (see 17.5.2), but the preterite can also describe habitual or prolonged events in the past and this often confuses students. In mi padre fumaba/fumó mucho cuando era joven ‘my father smoked a lot when he was young’, either tense is possible, whether or not he carried on smoking after his youth and whether or not he is still alive – it is this possibility that makes the linguistic terms ‘perfective’ or ‘completed aspect’ and ‘imperfective’ or ‘non-complete aspect’ unhelpful for learners of Spanish. The imperfect tense views the habit as in progress at the time referred to. The preterite looks back on it as an event viewed as a whole, i.e. something that continued throughout a period, e.g. his youth, those years, that period I’m talking about, etc., even though it may have continued thereafter. English ignores this difference of viewpoint so in the following examples the difference between the preterite and imperfect is virtually untranslatable: Mi niñez fue/era feliz My childhood was happy Recuerdo que llovió/llovía mucho cuando I remember it rained a lot when we lived in   vivíamos en Canadá  Canada Alonso se levantó/se levantaba todos los días Alonso got up every day at eight to go to work   a las ocho para ir al trabajo (usually levantaba) Cuando vivíamos juntos no tuvimos/teníamos When we lived together we had no problems  problemas (teníamos) more usual Siempre dormía como durmió su padre, con el He always used to sleep as his father (had)   arma escondida dentro de la funda de la   slept, with his gun hidden in his pillowcase   almohada (G GM, Col. Durmió como dormía   . . . su padre would have meant the same) El nuevo secretario fue el poeta Jaime Torres The new secretary was JTB who declared   Bodet, quien declaró: “Yo no soy político”   ‘I’m not a politician’   (JA, Mex.) Stalin fue una presencia habitual en la casa Stalin was a habitual visitor in the   de los Alliluyev (RM, Sp.)   Alliluyevs’ house (1)  Truly permanent characteristics – e.g. ethnicity, permanent size, identity – are expressed by the imperfect since they tend to be part of a general background. Thus la casa era muy grande ‘the house was very big’, mi padre era indio/blanco ‘my father was Indian/white’, Miguel hablaba vasco ‘Miguel could speak Basque’. But if the qualities are acquired or developed, fue is not impossible: cf. su padre fue un hombre muy alto, muy guapo, muy inteligente (AG, Sp.). However, students are advised to use the imperfect in such sentences since use of the preterite can sound very literary, as in Sir Thomas Browne (1605–82) supo el griego, el latín, el francés, el italiano y el español, y fue uno de los primeros hombres de letras que estudiaron anglosajón (JLB, Arg., more usually sabía . . .) ‘Sir Thomas Browne (1605–82) knew Greek, Latin, French, Italian and Spanish, and was one of the first men of letters to study Anglo-Saxon’; in this case fue is possible for era, but supo sounds strange.

17.4  The preterite: general remarks


17.4.4 Use of the preterite to denote an event that has reached completion The preterite may indicate that a process has finally reached completion, as in: Una vez el dinero estuvo en mis manos, As soon as the money came into my   compré la casa   hands, I bought the house No reconocí a Selina hasta que estuvo I didn’t recognize Selina until she was   delante de mí (SP, Sp.)   in front of me Una vez que estuvo mar adentro encendió el Once he was out at sea he started up the  Evinrude (EM, Mex.)   Evinrude (outboard motor) La conversación se fue espaciando (ir + gerund The conversation gradually petered out   indicates a longish process; fue shows   it ended)

17.4.5  Use of the preterite to indicate an event that actually happened The preterite can clearly indicate that an event happened whereas the imperfect does not give us this information. Compare: tuvimos que atravesar dos desiertos para llegar al oasis ‘we had to cross two deserts to get to the oasis’ (and we did), and teníamos que atravesar dos desiertos para llegar al oasis ‘we had (still) to cross two deserts to get to the oasis’ (no information whether we did or not). This construction is common with ser and with modal verbs like poder, querer, tener que, for which see Chapter 25. Further examples: Fue un error decírselo It was a mistake to tell him/her (we   committed it) Era un error decírselo It was a mistake to tell him/her (we may or     may not have committed it) Fue una presa fácil (S)he/It was an easy prey (and was caught) Era una presa fácil   (same translation, but the victim may have   escaped) Costó trabajo conseguirlo It was hard work getting it (but we did) Costaba trabajo conseguirlo It was hard work to get it (we may or may not   have tried to get it) El tren llegó a las ocho The train arrived at eight El tren llegaba a las ocho The train was due at eight (but may or may not   have arrived then) (1)  For this reason *fue un error devolverle el dinero, por eso no lo hice has the absurd meaning ‘I made the mistake of giving him back the money, so I didn’t’; . . . era un error . . . must be used.

17.4.6  Preterite to denote a rapid or short-lived event The preterite can sometimes show that an event lasted only a moment. The imperfect would, in these cases, indicate an event that had not yet ended at the time referred to: Hubo una nota de alarma en su voz There was a (brief) note of alarm in   his/her voice Cuando abrí el horno, sentí una ráfaga de calor When I opened the oven I felt a gust of heat Estuvo a punto de pensar que esas (For a moment) he was on the verge of   manos no eran suyas (CF, Mex.)   thinking that those hands weren’t his own

212 Use of indicative ­(non-­continuous) verb tenses

17.4.7  Preterite used to indicate the beginning of a state or action The preterite may indicate the beginning of an action. Compare mi hija anduvo a los once meses (i.e. empezó a andar) ‘my daughter started walking at eleven months’, and mi hija andaba a los once meses ‘my daughter was walking by eleven months’. Also: Me cayó bien (cf. me caía bien ‘I was getting I took a liking to her/him   on well with him/her’) Rosa me gustó desde el primer momento I liked (‘took a liking to’) Rosa right     from the first moment Fue niña y le pusimos Rita (M. Rodoreda, It was a girl and we named her Rita   Castilian translation, Sp.) Todo lo que había dentro me pareció lejano y Everything inside (suddenly) seemed  ajeno (LS, Ch.)    to me distant and alien . . . desde 1957, cuando por primera vez estuve . . . since 1957, when I first became   consciente de la Revolución Cubana   aware of the Cuban Revolution . . .   (interview, Granma, Cu., Sp. fui consciente)

17.4.8  Preterite used to indicate certainties in the future The preterite is occasionally used in set phrases in Spain to indicate an absolute certainty in the future: Cuando llegue, llegó (S)he’ll be here when (s)he’s here (and   that’s that!) Cuando se acabe, se acabó When it’s finished, it’s finished (1)  This construction is more common in Latin America. The following three examples are not heard in Spain: Para las dos ya lo acabé (Mex., from Lope I’ll have it finished by two o’clock   Blanch, 1991; Sp. ya lo tendré/ habré  acabado) Mañana ya llegó el día (LRS, PR, dialogue Tomorrow’s the day!   Sp. mañana es el día) Nos fuimos (colloquial Lat. Am., We’re going/We’re leaving right  Sp. nos vamos)   now (lit. ‘we’re gone’)

17.4.9  Special meanings of the preterite of some verbs Some verbs require special translations when they appear in the preterite. This is especially true of the modal auxiliary verbs deber, poder, querer, saber, discussed in Chapter 25. Two other verbs affected are: (a)  Tener: the preterite may mean ‘to receive’/‘to get’, the imperfect means ‘had’ in the sense of ‘was in my/your, etc., possession’: tuve la impresión de que . . . I got the impression that . . . tenía la impresión de que . . . I had the impression that . . . Tuve una carta/Tenía una carta I received a letter/I had a letter Cuando tuvo ocasión de estudiar consiguió When (s)he got the chance to study, (s)he   con la universidad a distancia el título   graduated as an engineer from the   de ingeniero   Open University

17.5  The imperfect: general


This does not override the rule given at 17.4.2 that the preterite must be used for actions continuing throughout a finite period: tuvo fiebre durante tres días ‘(s)he had a fever for three days’. (b) Conocer: Alejo conoció a Rafael ‘Alejo met Rafael’ (for the first time), Alejo conocía a Rafael ‘Alejo knew Rafael’.

17.4.10 Preterite used to distinguish events from descriptive background The preterite is sometimes used to show that an event is a part of a story while the imperfect shows that it is descriptive background. This is clear for English-speakers in a sentence like tu­­ vieron tres niños ‘they had (i.e. “produced”/“gave birth to”) three children’, which is usually three separate events, and tenían tres niños, which is a state of affairs, not an event. Less obvious is the difference between querían hacerlo ‘they wanted to do it’, which is a state of mind, and quisieron hacerlo, which is an event with an outcome, i.e. they wanted to do it and tried to, successfully or not. In the following example, the preterite (in bold type) presents the publication of the statistics as events while the imperfect paints the background: En noviembre se registraron 85 320 contratos, 85,320 job contracts were registered   de los cuales 83 419 fueron indefinidos.   in November, of which 83,419   Es decir, las colocaciones han caído   were long-term. In other words,   significativamente respecto a la cifra récord   the number of persons hired has   del pasado octubre, que fue de más de un   fallen significantly compared with   millón. El paro ha caído en 157 444 personas   last October’s record figure, which   desde noviembre de 1996, cuando la tasa de   was more than a million. Unemployment   paro era del 14,04%   has fallen by 157,444 persons since   November 1996, when the unemployment   rate stood at 17.04% (1)  English speakers find this distinction confusing when the verb is ser. María Luz Gutiérrez Araus (1995, 32), cites an interesting example from García Márquez (Col.): un perro . . . mordió a cuatro personas que se le atravesaron en el camino. Tres eran esclavos negros. La otra fue Sierva María ‘a dog bit four people who got in its way. Three were black slaves. The other was Sierva María’. The preterite brings Sierva María into the foreground – she is a major character in the novel. The imperfect pushes the other three characters into the descriptive background. But such clear-cut examples are rare and literary: in ordinary language one would say . . . era Sierva María.

17.5  The imperfect: general The Spanish imperfect form indicates a past event or state viewed as continuing at the time referred to. Compare M. estaba en el ejército ‘M. was in the army’ (at the time: imperfect) and M. estuvo en el ejército ‘M. was in the army’ (i.e. for a time in the past: preterite). It is therefore much used to describe something that was already in progress when something else happened (17.5.1), and to express habitual events in the past (17.5.2), although the preterite can also sometimes describe habitual events, as explained at 17.4.3. In colloquial language the Spanish imperfect may be a substitute for the conditional. See 17.5.4 and 29.5 for a discussion. The following remarks should be read in conjunction with the comments on the preterite tense in Section 17.4.

214 Use of indicative ­(non-­continuous) verb tenses

17.5.1 Imperfect tense to denote past events and states already in progress when something else happened The imperfect is used for background descriptions; the preterite is used for the events set against the background (imperfects in bold type): Yo volvía del cine cuando vi a Niso I was coming back from the cinema     when I saw Niso Miró por encima del hombro para estar segura She looked over her shoulder to be   de que nadie la acechaba (GGM, Col.)   sure that no one was lying in wait for her Cuando entré en el cuarto noté que olía a When I entered the room I noticed   quemado   there was a smell of burning Volví a la sala, pero él ya no estaba I went back to the living room, but he   (AM, Mex., dialogue)   was no longer there (1)  For the possible use of the continuous imperfect in some of these sentences, e.g. estaba acechando, instead of the non-continuous imperfect, see 19.2.1b.

17.5.2 Imperfect used to denote events that continued in the past for an unspecified period The imperfect can indicate that an event continued in the past for an unspecified period (and may or may not have continued). It is thus much used to describe characteristics, situations, habitual actions and other events that had no clear beginning and end: Los griegos adoraban a muchos dioses The Greeks worshipped many gods Cada vez que os veíais lo decía He used to say it every time you met   (IA, Sp. dialogue) Le exasperaban estas comidas mexicanas de These four or five-hour Mexican   cuatro o cinco horas de duración (CF, Mex.)   lunches exasperated him A veces le dolían el aire y la tierra que pisaba, Sometimes the air and the ground she   el sol del amanecer, las cuencas de los ojos   trod on hurt her, the morning sun,   (AM, Mex.)   the sockets of her eyes (1)  But the preterite must be used if a period of time is specified, as in ‘she was (fue) president for four years’; see 17.4.2.

17.5.3 Imperfect in sentences like ‘I hadn’t seen her for years’, ‘it was the first time that . . .’ English-speakers should note the use of the imperfect in the following type of sentence where English uses the pluperfect tense (for the tenses used in sentences of this type see 17.3.9): Hacía tres años que no se veían (AM, Mex.) Era la primera vez que la veía Me venía siguiendo desde hacía una semana

They hadn’t seen one another for three years It was the first time I had seen her S(he) had been following me for a week

17.5.4  Imperfect for the conditional The imperfect is often used in familiar speech instead of the conditional. This most commonly occurs in four cases:

17.5  The imperfect: general


(a)  When the conditional would refer to an immediate future. In this case Spanish resembles English: one can say ‘he said he would come’ or ‘he said he was coming’: Prometieron que venían/vendrían They promised they were coming/would  come Juró que lo hacía/haría (S)he swore (s)he’d do it Pensaba que ya no venías/vendrías I thought you weren’t coming/     wouldn’t come any more Sabíamos que los refuerzos llegaban/llegarían We knew the reinforcements were   de un momento para otro (see note 1)   arriving/would arrive at any moment (b)  With deber and poder, in which case the imperfect is slightly more colloquial: Podía ser una solución, mira . . . (CMG, Sp.,   dialogue; or podría) Debías/Deberías hacerlo ahora (see note 2)

It could be a solution, you know . . . You should do it now

(c)  In conditional sentences in familiar Spanish (see 29.5 for details, and see note 3): Incluso si no tuvieras dinero, me casaba/casaría I’d marry you even if you had no money   contigo Yo que tú compraba una nueva (ES, Mex., If I were you I’d buy a new one  dialogue) (d)  In familiar Spanish, to express a wish or denial: Ya le decía yo cuatro verdades I wouldn’t mind giving him/her a piece of my     mind! (lit. ‘telling him/her four truths’) Tenían que hacer un monumento al tío* que They ought to build a monument for the guy   inventó el café (MD, Sp., dialogue)   who invented coffee Yo ahora me tomaba un helado y me quedaba I’d like to have an ice-cream now and I’d feel   tan bien  great . . . ni loca me casaba con un español (ES, Mex., I wouldn’t marry a Spaniard even if I were   dialogue)   crazy (Mexican woman speaking) A primera vista, el hombre no mataba una mosca At first sight the man wouldn’t kill a fly *Tío, which properly means ‘uncle’, is constantly used in popular language in Spain for ‘guy’, though many people consider it vulgar. The female equivalent is tía. (1)  This is not possible if the future is not immediate: juró que me amaría siempre (not amaba . . .) ‘(s)he swore (s)he would love me for ever’. (2)  This is especially frequent with poder and deber to show that someone should or could have acted differently in the past, e.g. podías/podrías haberlo hecho, ¿no? ‘you could have done it, couldn’t you?’; see 25.2.3 and 25.3.3 for details. (3)  The imperfect cannot replace the conditional when the latter indicates a guess or estimate, as explained at 17.7.2.

17.5.5  Hablaba or estaba hablando? If the action is not habitual and is truly past (e.g. ‘I was leaving the next day’ is in fact a future in the past), the difference between the continuous and non-continuous imperfect is often blurred: yo

216 Use of indicative ­(non-­continuous) verb tenses hablaba/estaba hablando con los vecinos cuando llegaron los bomberos (estaba hablando preferred) ‘I was talking to the neighbours when the firemen arrived’. See Chapter 19 for more on the continuous. However, the verbs ir and venir and a few others are not much used in the continuous form: see19.3c.

17.5.6  Imperfect in children’s language An interesting use of the imperfect called the imperfecto lúdico or ‘imperfect of play’ is found in children’s language: vamos a jugar a que yo era un vaquero y tú eras un indio ‘let’s pretend I’m a cowboy and you’re an Indian’.

17.5.7  Imperfect to make courteous requests The imperfect can be used to show courtesy in requests and enquiries: ¿Qué deseaba? Perdone, quería hablar con el director

What would you like? Excuse me, I’d like to talk to the manager

17.5.8  Imperfect used for preterite in literary styles In newspaper language, the imperfect is sometimes used as an alternative to the preterite for dramatic effect. Normally, the sentence includes an adverb of time that shows that the action is a single completed event: Poco después, la policía francesa arrestaba a Shortly after, the French police   DM, de 56 años (El País, Sp.)   arrested 56-year-old DM Un día antes, en Santiago de Cuba, era The day before, in Santiago de Cuba,   asesinado Frank País (Granma, Cu.)   Frank País was murdered (1)  Arrestó and fue would have been more normal in both of these examples. This construction, called el imperfecto dramático, is also found in literary French.

17.6  Future tense: general Spanish, like English, has several ways of expressing the future, and the so-called ‘future tense’ (hablaré, vendrás) is not the most common in everyday speech, from which it is said to be disappearing except in its ‘suppositional’ role described at 17.6.5: (a) Esta noche vamos al cine (b) Esta noche vamos a ir al cine (c) Esta noche iremos al cine (d) Esta noche hemos de ir al cine

Tonight we’re going to the cinema Tonight we’re going to go to the cinema Tonight we’ll go to the cinema Tonight we’re due to go to the cinema

(a)  describes an event which is prearranged or scheduled; (b)  is a foreseen or ‘intentional’ future and it is also often an informal substitute for the futuretense proper iremos, seré, etc.; (c)  often excludes the idea of pre-arrangement or a scheduled event. Consequently it may sound rather uncertain or, depending on tone and context, may sound like an order or a promise;

17.6  Future tense: general


(d)  is discussed at 25.4.1. It is sometimes heard in Latin America with a future meaning, but in Castilian-speaking areas of Spain it usually implies obligation and is now slightly old-fashioned, rather like the English ‘tonight we are to go to the cinema’. It is common in Mexico as an alternative to deber de; see 25.4.1b.

17.6.1  Uses of the future-tense form to denote future time Often, particularly in informal speech, the present and future forms are interchangeable. However, the future is used: (a)  For provisional or less certain statements about the future, e.g. for forecasts, or for statements where context does not make it clear that the future is meant: Si llueve se aplazará el partido If it rains the match will be postponed En el remoto futuro el sol se apagará In the remote future the sun will go out Para entonces todos estaremos calvos We’ll all be bald by then (said of   something that will take a long time) Me ha dado cien euros. Con esto tiraré (S)he gave me 100 euros. I’ll manage   hasta la semana próxima, y luego veremos   with that until next week. Then we’ll see   (luego vemos is impossible here)  Nos veremos mañana en Palacio, ¿no We’ll see one another tomorrow at the   es cierto? (CF, Mex., dialogue. Nos vemos   Presidential Palace won’t we?’   would imply more certainty) (b)  The future is much used for promises or predictions, especially long-term ones, since these by nature are not pre-arrangements: Ten confianza en mí. No te decepcionaré Trust me. I won’t disappoint you ¡No pasarán! They shall not pass! No tenga miedo . . . ya nadie le hará daño Don’t be afraid . . . no one is going to hurt you   (EM, Mex., dialogue)   any more Pero cuídalo como si fuera ya mío, porque But look after it as though it already   en ese caso algún día será de mis hijas   belonged to me, because in that case   (ABE, Pe., dialogue)   one day it will belong to my daughters Una verdadera revolución no admitirá A true revolution will never allow   jamás la impunidad (VdC, Cu.)   crimes to go unpunished (1)  The difference between sentences like te veo mañana and te veré mañana ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ may be merely one of tone. Some informants claimed they would use the present tense in te veo mañana (informal) and the future in lo/le veré (a usted) mañana (formal). (2)  For the tense form used after words meaning ‘perhaps’/‘probably’/‘possibly’ see 20.2.1. (3)  The present tense can be used colloquially (but not with ser ‘to be’) for short-term promises presented as pre-arrangements, e.g. no te preocupes, te lo devuelvo (or devolveré) mañana ‘don’t worry, I’ll give it back to you tomorrow’, bueno, te llamo ‘OK, I’ll call you’.

17.6.2  Future tense used for commands As in English, the future is occasionally used for stern commands: No matarás Thou shalt not kill No saldrás de esta casa hasta que yo no te lo You will not leave this house until I allow  permita (see 27.2.4c for the second no)   you to

218 Use of indicative ­(non-­continuous) verb tenses

17.6.3  Present tense with future meaning The present tense is much used in informal language to refer to the future. If the subject is human this conveys an idea of pre-arrangement and is therefore especially used for fixtures or scheduled events, cf. English ‘I’m going to Spain next year’, ‘we attack tomorrow’. If the subject is non-living, the action is foreseen as a certainty or a fixture, e.g. el tren sale mañana a las 7 ‘the train leaves tomorrow at 7’ (scheduled departure). Compare mañana el tren saldrá a las siete ‘tomorrow the train will leave at seven’, which suggests an unscheduled or unexpected departure. The fact that the verb refers to the future is normally shown by some time phrase like mañana, esta noche, el año que viene. The following examples are informal in tone: Vamos a Bolivia el año que viene We’re going to Bolivia next year Te llamo/Nos vemos I’ll call you/See you later Esta noche hay tormenta, verás Tonight there’ll be a storm, you’ll see El día menos pensado le tiran a tu One fine day (lit. ‘the day least expected’) they’re   madre la casa (CMG, Sp., dialogue)   going to demolish your mother’s house Ahorita vengo, voy por el dinero I’ll be right back. I’ll go and get the money   (ES, Mex., dialogue. In Spain ahorita  = ahora mismo) (1)  This use of the present tense is particularly common with verbs of motion like ir, venir, salir, llegar. (2)  Events predicted in an unspecified future are by nature less certain, so the present tense should not be used: si las cosas continúan así, ya no habrá árboles ‘if things go on like this there will be no more trees’. (3)  If there is nothing in the sentence or context that clearly shows that the statement refers to the future, the present tense is assumed to be a true present and the future must be shown by some unambiguous form, e.g. ir a plus an infinitive or the future tense proper. Compare me parece que no hay sitio ‘I think there’s no room’ and me parece que no habrá/va a haber sitio ‘I think there won’t be room’. (4)  The present tense of ser is usually used for the future only in calendar statements: mañana es jueves/fiesta ‘tomorrow is Thursday/a fiesta’, but mañana el discurso será pronunciado por el presidente ‘tomorrow the speech will be delivered by the president’, not *es pronunciado.

17.6.4  Ir a . . . + infinitive The future is very often expressed by ir a + the infinitive. This may express firm intention or it may simply be a colloquial alternative for the future tense – but not for the suppositional future mentioned at 17.6.5: espéreme tantito, voy a ver quién toca . . . (ES, Mex., dialogue. Tantito = un momentito in Spain) ‘hang on a moment, I’ll go and see who’s knocking on the door’. Ir a . . . virtually replaces the ordinary future-tense form in the speech of many people. Kany, 192, gives several Latin-American examples like ya va usted a querer pelear con nosotros por semejante porquería (Pe., popular; Spain se va usted a pelear con nosotros por . . .) ‘sure, you’ll want to fight us over a bit of rubbish like this’, ¿cuánto va a querer, señor? (Mex., popular; Sp. ¿cuánto va a ser?/¿cuánto quiere?) ‘how much will you want, Sir?’. But the future tense is by no means extinct in speech, as can be seen in this passage of colloquial Cuban:

17.6  Future tense: general


—¿Y qué harás entre estas cuatro paredes? ‘And what’ll you do (shut up) between these   —Limpiaré el cuarto, me lavaré la cabeza,   four walls?’ ‘I’ll clean my room, wash my   plancharé una blusita para ir al trabajo el lunes,   hair, iron a blouse for work on Monday, sit in   me sentaré en la butaca, sacaré un crucigrama,   the armchair, do a crossword, look out of the   me asomaré al balcón, cocinaré, me comeré las   window, cook, chew my nails . . . I don’t have   uñas. ¡No tengo ni un solo minuto libre!   a single minute free!’   (AA, Cu., dialogue; Sp. haré un crucigrama) (1)  The imperfect iba a, etc. may also be used as a future in the past. See 17.7.3. (2)  Omission of the a, e.g. va llamarla ‘(s)he’s going to call her’, is heard in familiar Latin-American speech but should be avoided.

17.6.5  Future tense used for guesses and approximations Important: one use of the future tense is to express guesses or approximations. This use of the future often produces much more idiomatic Spanish than sentences involving aproximadamente or alrededor de. In questions, the future expresses wonder, incredulity or conjecture: Serán las nueve y media, por ahí It must be around 9.30   (CMG, Sp., dialogue) Ya habrás comido, ¿no? I guess you’ve already eaten, haven’t you? Un par de años hará . . . Gannon me escribió de It must be a couple of years ago that   Gualeguaychu (JLB, Arg.)   Gannon wrote to me from Gualeguaychu Pase usted, por favor. Siéntese. Estará Please come in. Sit down. You must be tired  cansado (JJM, Pan., dialogue) —¿Dónde está tu monedero? —Me lo habré ‘Where’s your purse?’ ‘I must have left  dejado en casa     it at home’ ¿Qué hora será? (Lat. Am.¿Qué horas serán?) I wonder what the time is? Eh, no querrás que mi jefe vea eso Hey, you don’t want my boss to see   (JM, Sp., dialogue)   that, do you? ¿Qué estará pensando de todo esto? ‘What can he be thinking of all this?’   (CF, Mex., dialogue) (1)  Kany, 190, notes that this use of the future is more common in Spain than in Latin America, where deber (de) . . . is more usual: deben (de) ser las cinco = serán las cinco or deben (de) ser las cinco. See 25.3.2 for deber de, which is also used in Spain. The NGLE 23.14s notes the suppositional use of ir a in Latin-American Spanish: ¿qué irá a ocurrir cuando pasen los años? (Sp. ocurrirá) ‘what will happen when years have gone by?’ (2)  For the use of the future perfect tense for conjectures, e.g. ¿cuánto habrán pagado? ‘I wonder how much they paid?’, see 18.6a.

17.6.6  Two cases where the future tense is not used (a)  As in English, the future tense is not used after ‘if’/si: *si vendrás mañana/*‘if you will come tomorrow’ is incorrect in both languages for si vienes mañana/‘if you come tomorrow’. An exception to this rule is mentioned at 29.8.1 note 3. This does not apply to the emphatic use of si described at 35.4.8: ¡si será tonto! ‘wow, is he stupid!’

220 Use of indicative ­(non-­continuous) verb tenses (b)  Students must avoid using the future after cuando in sentences like comeremos cuando llegue Julia (present subjunctive) ‘we’ll eat when Julia arrives’, not *cuando llegará Julia’. Learners who know French or Italian are likely to succumb to this temptation. See 20.4.7 for more details.

17.7  The conditional: general For the forms of the conditional see 16.3 and 16.7.4. The name ‘conditional’ is accurate insofar as it often shows that an event is conditional on some other factor, as in podríamos ir mañana ‘we could go tomorrow’ (if the weather’s nice, if we’re free, etc.). But it has other functions that have nothing to do with the idea of conditionality, especially the expression of suppositions or approximations in the past (17.7.2) and the expression of the future in the past (17.7.3). (1) Important: for the purpose of agreement, the conditional counts as a past tense, so the ­subjunctive in a subordinate clause governed by the conditional must also be in the past. Compare es absurdo que vengas mañana ‘it’s absurd for you to come tomorrow’ and sería absurdo que vinieras/vinieses mañana ‘it would be absurd for you to come tomorrow’ (see 20.8 for detailed discussion). (2)  Colloquial language may use the imperfect instead of the conditional especially in conditional sentences (see 17.5.4 and 29.5 for discussion). (3)  For replacement of the imperfect subjunctive by the conditional in some regions, e.g. ?si yo tendría dinero for si yo tuviera dinero ‘if I had some money’ see 20.12.2.

17.7.1  Uses of the conditional to express conditions The conditional is also used for implied conditions, i.e. conditional statements which contain no if-clause: Sería una locura ponerlo en marcha sin aceite It would be crazy to start it up with no oil Lo único que no tendría en su despacho sería The only thing he wouldn’t have in his   una cocina (GZ, Mex., dialogue)   office would be a cooking stove (1)  For the conditional in conditional sentences, e.g. si hiciera menos frío iríamos a la playa ‘if it were less cold we’d go to the beach’ see Chapter 29.

17.7.2 Conditional tense used for suppositions or guesses about the past The conditional is used for guesses and approximations about the past in the same way as the future is for guesses about the present or future (see 17.6.5): Serían alrededor de las seis de la mañana It must have been about six in the morning   (EM, Mex.) Tendría (or tenía/debía de tener) unos treinta (S)he must have been about thirty   años Los guardé algún tiempo . . . luego supongo I kept them (los diarios –‘the diaries’)   que los quemaría (CMG, Sp., dialogue)   for a while . . . then I must have burnt them

17.7  The conditional: general


Gregorius habría nacido en Glasgow (JC, Arg.) Gregorius was reportedly born in Glasgow un fósil de molusco o gasterópodo —tipo a fossil of a mollusc or gastropod   caracol— que pertenecería a la época del   – of the snail type – that probably   Cuaternario   belonged to the Quaternary period (1)  In newspapers, more so in Latin America than in Spain, the conditional is used for rumours or unsubstantiated reports. This construction is condemned by many grammarians and by the editors of El País, but the Academy now accepts it: Ese dinero . . . sería resultado del esquema That money is said to be a result of the   de sobornos y desvíos (La Jornada, Mex.)   scheme of bribes and illicit payments La desaparición de los etarras estaría Security reasons are said to be the   motivada por cuestiones de seguridad   motive for the disappearance of the  (Abc, Sp.)   ETA members (ETA: a now defunct Basque   separatist movement) (2)  For the use of deber de for suppositions see 25.3.2. (3)  In questions, the conditional perfect may express amazement or anxiety. See 18.6b.

17.7.3  Conditional for the future in the past As in English, the conditional is used to express the future in the past, i.e. as a close equivalent of iba a + an infinitive: Yo sabía que papá bajaría/iba a bajar a las once I knew father would come down at 11 o’clock Cerró la puerta con cuidado; su mujer dormía He shut the door carefully; his wife   profundamente. Dormiría hasta que el sol   was fast asleep. She would sleep until   hiciera su primera presencia en la ventana   the sun first showed at the window   (IA, Sp.) En un rato todo el mundo se iría a dormir Soon everyone would go and take a   la siesta (AM, Mex., dialogue;   siesta  Sp. Dentro de un rato) (1)  When the conditional refers to an event known to have taken place – which it does not in the preceding three examples – the effect is literary: el treinta de abril de aquel año Hitler se suicidaría en su búnker ‘on April 30 of that year Hitler was to/would commit suicide in his bunker’, andando el tiempo ostentaría varias carteras ministeriales (JC, Sp.) ‘in due time he would hold several ministerial appointments’.

17.7.4  Conditional in rhetorical questions As in English, the conditional is much used for questions to which the speaker already knows the answer: ¿Hay alguien que se atrevería a ir a un Is there anyone who’d bother (lit. ‘dare’) to   estadio o auditorio para ver a una chica   go to a stadium or concert hall to see a   virtual cantando? (La Jornada, Mex.)   ‘virtual’ girl singing?

222 Use of indicative ­(non-­continuous) verb tenses

17.7.5 Replacement of the pluperfect conditional tense by ­pluperfectsubjunctive tense The pluperfect subjunctive verb form (hubiera sido, hubieran visto, etc.) is quite often used as an alternative to the conditional perfect, habría sido, habrían visto. This is possible only when the verb is truly a conditional in the past and not a suppositional form (17.7.2) or a future in the past (17.7.3). This use of the pluperfect subjunctive form is slightly more formal or bookish in tone and, according to the Academy, is more common in Latin America than in Spain: Hubiera podido ser una buena novela de It could have been a good mystery novel   misterio . . . (CMG, Sp., dialogue) El mal lo mismo se hubiera colado por alguna The disease would have crept in just   grieta de las piedras del castillo   the same through some crack in   (MP, Arg., dialogue)   the walls of the castle A lo mejor me hubiera hecho mucho bien Perhaps it would have done me a lot   seguir con la terapia (AM, Mex.)   of good to continue with therapy Habría could have been used for hubiera in all these examples. (1) Use of the -se subjunctive form instead of the -ra form of haber to form the pluperfect ­conditional is rejected by the grammarians: El País’s Libro de estilo 2014, 13.27, bans it and the NGLE 23.15v and 24.2c disapproves. The -ra form is overwhelmingly more usual, but the -se form is nevertheless found, especially in Mexico and Spain: cualquiera hubiese creído que de verdad estaba excitada (ES, Mex., for hubiera/habría creído) ‘anyone would have believed she was really excited’, Eva adoraba las fiestas; le hubiese encantado acompañarle a la ópera (RM, Spain) ‘Eva [Perón] loved parties; she would have been thrilled to accompany him to the opera’, y hubiese sido muy sospechoso que yo me negase (MP, Arg., dialogue) ‘and it would have been very suspicious if I’d refused’.

17.7.6 Use of the -ra imperfect subjunctive form for the conditional tense (a)  With querer and deber, the imperfect subjunctive form may be used instead of the conditional, as in yo querría/quisiera hacerlo ‘I’d like to do it’, deberías/debieras haberlo hecho ‘you should have done it’. The subjunctive form is more formal. With poder, use of the imperfect subjunctive is literary: en un país que bien pudiera ser Chile (CORPES, Ch.) ‘in a country that might/could well be Chile’. See Chapter 25 for a further discussion of these modal verbs. (b)  With other verbs, use of the imperfect subjunctive for the conditional is nowadays uncommon and archaic: Abril, sin tu asistencia clara, fuera invierno de caídos esplendores . . . (Juan Ramón Jiménez, poetry; i.e. sería . . .) ‘April, without thy bright presence, would be a winter of fallen splendours’, un libro fuera poco . . . para dar cauce a un país como La Mancha (C JC, Sp.) ‘a book would be little (lit. ‘were little . . .’) to do justice to (lit. ‘to give channel to’) a land like La Mancha’. (1)  The imperfect subjunctive used for the conditional tense is found in the Latin-American literary formula pareciera que . . . (for parecería que . . .) ‘it would seem that . . .’: pareciera que sabes un poco de todo lo que comentamos (MC, Mex., dialogue) ‘it would seem that you know a bit about everything we mention’. Such use of the -ra subjunctive is rather more common in spontaneous speech in Venezuela and Central America where one hears sentences like en ese caso yo lo hiciera for . . . lo haría ‘in that case I would do it’.

17.8  Tense agreement


(2)  In pre-eighteenth-century Spanish, the use of the -ra form for the conditional tense with all verbs was very common: y si estas calamidades no me acontecieran, no me tuviera (modern Spanish tendría) yo por caballero andante (Don Quijote) ‘and had these calamities not befallen me, I would not consider myself a knight errant’. Compare the archaic English equivalent ‘. . . I had not considered myself a knight errant’.

17.8  Tense agreement Tense agreement with the subjunctive is discussed in full at 20.8. As far as the indicative tenses are concerned, Spanish is stricter than English about the agreement of past with past. In sentences like ‘John said he is/was coming’, English seems to use either tense in the subordinate clause. Spanish requires Juan dijo que venía. Sentences like ?Juan dijo que viene usually sound careless or sub-standard. The present is, however, possible with the perfect tense when John’s arrival is still awaited: Juan ha dicho que viene ‘Juan said he’s coming’.

18 Use of indicative (noncontinuous) compound tenses The following topics are discussed in this chapter: • • • • • • •

General remarks on the compound tenses (Section 18.1) Uses of the perfect tense (he hablado, hemos ido, etc.) (Section 18.2) Uses of the pluperfect tense (había hablado, habían ido, etc.) (Section 18.3) The -ra pluperfect (Section 18.3.2) The pretérito anterior: hubo terminado, etc. (Section 18.4) The pluperfect subjunctive (hubiera/hubiese hablado, etc.) (Section 18.5) The future perfect and conditional perfect: habrá hecho, habría hecho, etc. (Section 18.6)

18.1 Compound tenses: general remarks Compound tenses are tenses formed from haber plus the past participle. See 16.13 for the conjugation of the compound tenses of a typical verb. All of the tenses, except the pretérito anterior, can also appear in the continuous form: see Chapter 19: Perfect Pluperfect Future perfect Conditional perfect Perfect subjunctive Pluperfect subjunctive

he estado hablando, etc. había estado hablando, etc. habré estado hablando, etc. habría estado hablando, etc. haya estado hablando, etc. hubiera/hubiese estado hablando, etc.

I’ve been speaking I had been speaking I will have been speaking I would have been speaking No exact translation No exact translation

(1) Important: compound tenses all use the auxiliary haber or, much less commonly and the pretérito anterior excepted, tener (see 18.1.3). French, Italian and German form the compound tenses of certain verbs with ‘to be’ as the auxiliary: je suis allé/allée, sono andato/andata, ich bin gegangen. Verbs in modern Spanish form compound tenses only with haber. Llegar, ir and venir are very rare archaic or journalistic exceptions, cf. el verano es ido ‘Summer is gone’, normally se ha ido. (2) Unlike French and Italian, the past participle is invariable in form. Compare French je l’ai vue ‘I saw her’ and Spanish la he visto. This does not apply if tener is used instead of haber: see 18.1.3.

18.1.1 Compound tenses: word order Important: no words should be inserted between haber and the past participle: compare French j’ai toujours dit and siempre he dicho. He siempre dicho is not heard in normal Spanish, but the rule is occasionally broken in literary style with such words as ni siquiera, incluso, todavía, aún, ya, nunca, jamás, más que, quizá(s), tal vez: Se habrá tal vez olvidado Se ha más que duplicado la cifra

You may have forgotten The figure has more than doubled

18.1  Compound tenses: general remarks

. . . en buena parte por no habérselo aún   propuesto con entera seriedad (SP, Mex.)


. . . to a great extent because he had not  yet suggested it to him in all seriousness

(1)  Important: when haber is in the infinitive or the gerund form, personal pronouns are attached to it: . . . antes de habérselo propuesto ‘. . . before suggesting it to him/her/you’, habiéndonoslos en­­ viado ‘having sent them to us’. *Me arrepiento de te lo haber dicho is not Spanish for ‘I regret having said it to you’, correctly me arrepiento de habértelo dicho. (2)  For the now obsolete construction había comprado la casa y pintádola for había comprado la casa y la había pintado ‘(s)he had bought the house and painted it’, see 14.3.7 note 2.

18.1.2 Omission of haber and of the past participle in compoundtenses The auxiliary verb haber may optionally be omitted before a second or subsequent past participle to avoid repetition: Yo también he pasado por baches y conocido I’ve been through rough patches as   la duda (LG, Sp., dialogue)   well and known doubt No sólo había tocado la mano y mirado los Not only had he touched the hand and   ojos de la mujer que más le gustaba tocar y   looked at the eyes of the woman he most   mirar del mundo . . . (CF, Mex.)   liked to touch and look at in the world . . . (1)  The past participle may be deleted in English, but not in Spanish: ‘Have you tried the sausages?’ ‘Yes, I have’. —¿Has probado las salchichas? —Sí or —Sí, las he probado, but not *sí, las he. However, deletion occasionally occurs with the pluperfect tense: ¿se había reído? Sí, se había. Pero esta vez sin sarcasmo (MVLl, Pe., dialogue) ‘Had he laughed? Yes, he had. But without sarcasm this time’.

18.1.3  Tengo hecho, tengo comprado, etc. Tener can be used as an auxiliary, like the English ‘to have got’, to denote the successful acquisition of some object or the fulfilment of some task. Compare he hecho mis deberes ‘I’ve done my homework’ and tengo hechos mis deberes ‘I’ve got my homework done’. The participle must agree in number and gender with the object of the verb, and the verb must be transitive and have a direct object (*tengo sido for he sido ‘I have been’, Portuguese tenho sido, is not Spanish): Ya tengo compradas las entradas I’ve already bought the tickets Yo tenía concertada hora con el jefe I had arranged an appointment with the boss Que persigan a los pillos que tienen Let them chase after the hoodlums that have   tomadas las calles (El Tiempo, Col.)   taken over the streets Tenía pensado cruzar a la orilla derecha I had planned to cross to the right bank [of   (JC, Arg., dialogue)   the Seine] Los cuicos tenían rodeado el coche The cops had the car surrounded   (CF, Mex. Cuico is Mexican slang) (1) Llevar is also occasionally used in the same way: llevo tomadas tres aspirinas, pero todavía me duele la cabeza ‘I’ve taken three aspirins, but my head’s still aching’, . . . y le llevan encontradas ya creo que hasta tres calaveras en la catedral de Lima (ABE, Pe., dialogue; Sp. y llevan encontradas . . .) ‘I think they’ve already found three of his skulls in Lima Cathedral’ (refers to a famous saint), yo llevo vendidos cuatrocientos (Mexico City, overheard) ‘I’ve sold four hundred’, llevo veintiún ase­sinatos investigados. Una sola mujer (LS, Sp., dialogue) ‘I’ve investigated twenty-one murders. Only one [murderer] was a woman.’

226 Use of indicative (non-­continuous) compound tenses (2)  In Galicia one sometimes hears sentences like *no la tengo visto. This is not Castilian but a borrowing from the Galician non a teño visto. It should be no la he visto.

18.2  The perfect indicative tense Spanish differs from spoken French, German and Italian, and broadly resembles English, in respecting the difference between hablé ‘I spoke’, and he hablado ‘I’ve spoken’. Students of languages in which the difference is blurred must not imitate sentences like je l’ai vu hier, ich habe ihn gestern gesehen, l’ho visto ieri ‘I saw him yesterday’ to produce questionable Spanish like *lo/le he visto ayer, correctly lo/le vi ayer. European Spanish usually uses the perfect wherever English does, but the converse is not true: the European Spanish perfect often requires translation by the English simple past. Moreover, in most of the Spanish-speaking world (Galicia, Asturias, the Canaries and most of Latin America) the preterite is in fact more common than the perfect, cf. ya llegó (Latin America) ‘(s)he has already arrived’ (some varieties of American English are like Latin-American Spanish in preferring the simple past to the compound perfect: ‘(s)he already arrived’, British ‘(s)he’s already arrived’). In Spain one says ya ha llegado. Use of the perfect tense seems to be most developed in Madrid and is noticed by persons from other regions. A. Moreira Rodríguez, one of the authors of this book, recalls an eight-year-old girl from Galicia rebuking her little cousin from Madrid: ¡siempre dices “he corrido”, “he visto”, “he ido”. Hablas mal. Hay que decir “corrí”, “vi”, “fui”! (1)  Important: the English perfect tense is ambiguous: ‘I’ve lived in London for ten years’ can mean either that you no longer live there or that you still live there. Out of context, he vivido diez años en Londres is assumed to mean that you no longer live there. Llevo diez años viviendo en Londres clearly means that you still live there. This rule can be overridden by context or by words like siempre, cf. aquí nací y aquí he vivido siempre (EM, Sp., dialogue) ‘I was born here and I’ve always lived here’ (see the next section for details).

18.2.1 Perfect to denote events occurring in a period that includes thepresent The perfect is used for events that have happened in a period of time that is still current, e.g. today, this afternoon, this week, this month, this year, this century, always, already, never, still, yet. In this respect, English – especially British English – and European Spanish coincide, and the construction is also very common in written Latin-American Spanish: No he visto a tu madre esta semana I haven’t seen your mother this week Hemos ido dos veces este mes We’ve been twice this month En sólo dos generaciones se ha desertizado un In only two generations 43% of the   43% de la superficie terrestre (Abc, Sp.)   earth’s surface has been reduced to desert Desde el año 2000 han sido asesinados Since the year 2000, 91 journalists have been   en México 91 reporteros (La Jornada,   murdered in Mexico   Mex., Feb. 2016. Sp. 91 periodistas . . .) Ya han llegado They’ve already arrived Siempre he pensado que . . . I have always thought that . . . Aún/Todavía no han llegado They haven’t arrived yet He pensado en ti tantas veces I’ve thought of you so often

18.2  The perfect indicative tense


(1)  The preterite may be used to break the link between the event and the present moment. Compare vi a tu suegra esta mañana and he visto a tu suegra esta mañana ‘I saw/have seen your mother-in-law this morning’; there is little difference in meaning. Use of the preterite suggests either that the statement was made after midday (the most likely explanation), or that the speaker feels that the event is by now further in the past, or that the speaker comes from a region that makes less use of the perfect tense. (2)  In all the examples given, Latin Americans may prefer the preterite: see 18.2.8. But use of the perfect tense to describe a lasting life experience is more or less universal: gané la lotería, así que he vivido bien ‘I won the lottery, so I’ve lived well’.

18.2.2  Perfect for events whose effects are still relevant in the present As in English, the perfect is used for recent past events that are relevant to or explain the present, or whose effects persist in the present. This is also common in written Latin-American Spanish: Alguien ha fumado un cigarrillo aquí. Huelo Someone has smoked a cigarette here.   el humo   I can smell the smoke ¿Quién ha roto esta ventana? Who’s broken/Who broke this window? Todo el mundo habla de Fulano porque ha Everyone’s talking about so-and-so   publicado otra novela   because he’s published a new novel Estoy orgulloso de lo que han hecho con I’m proud of what they’ve done with   este muchacho—, dijo —se ha convertido   this boy,’ he said. ‘He’s become a man’   en un hombre (DES, Mex., dialogue) (1)  Latin-American speech (outside the regions mentioned in 18.2.3 note 1) may use the preterite in such sentences. See 18.2.8 for discussion. (2)  The perfect is sometimes used in European Spanish together with some word or phrase that refers to a past not continuing into the present, e.g. ‘yesterday’, ‘two months ago’. This may express the idea that an event is relevant to or explains something in the present, as in está en muy mala edad para cambiar. Ha cumplido cincuenta años en junio (CMG, Sp., dialogue) ‘he’s really not the best age for changing. He was fifty last June’. Seco (1998), 357, says that this shows that the action took place in what for the speaker is the ‘psychological present’, but many Spaniards from the north and many Latin Americans insist on the preterite in such cases and in sentences like the following: Pero el padre murió, y la madre ha muerto But the father died, and the mother   hace unos años (ABV, Sp., dialogue:   died a few years ago   makes her death more immediate) ?Bueno, he ido a hacerme el análisis hace Anyway, I went and had the test done two   quince días (Madrid interviewee.   weeks ago   Popular style) A mí todo lo que me ha sucedido me ha Everything that has happened to me   sucedido ayer, anoche a más tardar   happened yesterday, last night at   (JC, Arg., dialogue)    the latest (3)  De Mello (1994), 1, reports the same phenomenon in the speech of Lima and La Paz, but he finds virtually no other Latin-American examples. Bolivian Spanish is particularly likely to use the perfect tense in these contexts, as is colloquial Spanish in Madrid.

228 Use of indicative (non-­continuous) compound tenses (4) The NGLE (23.7g) notes that the sentence Carlos Gardel ha sido el mejor intérprete del tango ‘Carlos Gardel was the best of the tango performers’ is correct because it is still true in the present. However, ?Einstein ha visitado España en 1928 (for visitó) ‘Einstein visited Spain in 1928’ sounds odd because it no longer describes something true in the present.

18.2.3  Perfect of recency In Spain, but rarely in Latin America outside Bolivia and Peru, the perfect may optionally be used for any very recent event, in practice any event that has happened since midnight. Very recent events (e.g. seconds ago) are almost always expressed by the perfect tense in European Spanish: Esta mañana me he levantado/me levanté a I got up at six this morning   las seis Han sonado hace poco dos tiros. ¿Los has There were two shots a moment ago.   oído? (ABV, Sp., dialogue)   Did you hear them? —¿Quién ha dicho eso?— No he sido yo. ‘Who said that (just now)?’ ‘It wasn’t   Ha sido él   me. It was him’ La he visto hace un momento I saw her a moment ago No he podido hacerlo I couldn’t do it Perdone, no he entendido bien lo que ha dicho Sorry, I didn’t fully understand what   (CMG, Sp., dialogue)   you said (just now) (1)  The perfect of recency seems to be a fairly recent innovation of European Spanish, although Kany, 200, notes its colloquial use in Bolivia and Peru, cf. te he hecho daño porque no has entendido nada (ABE, Pe., dialogue) ‘I hurt you because you didn’t understand a thing’. Other LatinAmerican regions favour the preterite in these examples. Many persons from northern Spain use the preterite in sentences like those shown above. (2)  European Spanish freely uses the perfect of recency with verbs like querer, ser: no he querido hacerlo ‘I didn’t want to do it’, ¿quién ha sido el gracioso que se ha llevado las llaves? ‘who was the clown that took the keys away?’ (3)  European Spanish thus differs from English in that the perfect is used of any very recent event, completed or not. English allows ‘have you heard the news?’ since the news can still be heard, but not *‘have you seen the flash?’ (assuming it is not going to be repeated): ¿habéis visto el relámpago? ‘did you see the flash?’ (4)  Despite the frequency of the perfect of recency, Spanish radio announcers often end programmes with remarks like escucharon ustedes la novena sinfonía de Beethoven ‘you have been listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony’ (more usually acaban de escuchar . . .). Seco, p.357, disapproves of this use of the preterite.

18.2.4  Perfect in time phrases The perfect is often used in Spain – at least in the Madrid region – in negative time phrases of the sort hace años que no te he visto (or no te veo; Latin Americans and Spaniards from the north-west may not accept the perfect) ‘I haven’t seen you for years’. Positive sentences of this type usually require the present tense: hace años que lo/le veo todos los días ‘I’ve been seeing him every day for years’. See Chapter 36, especially 36.3.2, for more on this subject.

18.2  The perfect indicative tense


18.2.5  Use of the perfect for famous quotations The perfect is sometimes used for famous quotations, e.g. Aristóteles ha dicho que . . . ‘Aristotle said that . . .’. The present, preterite or imperfect are also possible.

18.2.6  Perfect used for future certainties The perfect is occasionally used in familiar spoken European Spanish, at least in central Spain, for future actions that are described as certainties: cuando vuelvas ya he acabado ‘I’ll have finished by the time you get back’. Formal usage requires the future perfect . . . ya lo habré acabado. See 17.4.8 for the Latin-American tendency to use the preterite (ya acabé) in similar sentences. (1)  A curiosity of colloquial Ecuadorean Spanish is the use of the perfect for future certainties: el año que viene ha sido bisiesto ‘next year’s a leap year’ for . . . es/será bisiesto. This seems to be unknown elsewhere.

18.2.7  Perfect with future reference in conditional sentences As in English, the perfect may refer to the future in the if-clause of a conditional sentence: si la situación no ha cambiado para el viernes, avísame ‘if the situation hasn’t changed by Friday, let me know’.

18.2.8  The perfect tense in Latin America: further remarks In general, in formal written Spanish, the rules governing the use of perfect tense seem to be the same on both continents. As far as spoken language is concerned, the rules for its use in central Spain also apply – with some slight differences – to the spoken language of Bolivia and Peru. In most of the rest of Latin America, however, and also in Galicia and Asturias, completed actions tend to be expressed in everyday language by the preterite tense. This solution is so favoured in informal styles in some parts of Latin America that the perfect tense is rarely heard: Ya nos llegó la moderna solución (El Tiempo, Now we’ve got the modern answer!   Col., Sp. ha llegado) —¿Ya organizaste? —le pregunté. ‘Have you organized it?’, I asked  —Sí, ya organicé (AM, Mex., dialogue;   him. ‘Yes, I’ve organized it’  Sp. lo has organizado/lo he organizado) ¿Nunca te fijaste en eso? (ibid., Sp. nunca Haven’t you ever noticed/Didn’t   te has fijado)   you ever notice that? (1)  The perfect tense seems to be least popular in everyday speech in Buenos Aires city and is said to sound ‘bookish’ there: the preterite is preferred. (2) In the spoken language of Mexico, and many other places, the perfect tense may express incomplete actions. Estudié mucho este mes means ‘I’ve done a lot of studying this month’ (and now I’ve stopped), nos podemos ir. El maestro no vino ‘we can go. The teacher hasn’t come’ (and won’t be coming now). But he estudiado mucho este mes ‘I’ve been doing a lot of studying this month (and I still am)’, les he escrito = ‘I have been writing to them and still am’, el maestro no ha venido ‘the teacher hasn’t come yet’ (but he may still come).

230 Use of indicative (non-­continuous) compound tenses For Spaniards les he escrito is a completed action: ‘I wrote/have written to them’. The difference in Mexican Spanish is visible, as the NGLE 23.7r notes, in the polite Mexican question ¿cómo has estado? which clearly means ‘how have you been keeping?’ (up to and including now) and excludes the meaning ‘how were you?’, which is how Spaniards understand it. With words like aún, todavía the event can still happen, so the perfect is used as in Spain: aún/ todavía no ha llamado ‘(s)he hasn’t phoned yet’ (but may still phone).

18.2.9  The perfect and imperfect subjunctive In general, the perfect subjunctive, haya dicho, hayamos contestado, etc., is used where Spanish grammar requires that a perfect indicative verb must be put in the subjunctive mood: creo que lo he visto – no creo que lo haya visto. But it often seems that the perfect and imperfect subjunctives can be used interchangeably: Es imposible que lo haya hecho/que lo It’s impossible that (s)he did it  hiciera/hiciese Niega que su mujer le abriera/abriese/le haya He denies that his wife opened the   abierto la puerta   door for him/her Algunos no aceptan que Colón descubriera/ Some people don’t accept that   descubriese/haya descubierto América   Columbus discovered America

18.3  The pluperfect: general The pluperfect is formed with the imperfect of haber plus a past participle: habías comido ‘you had eaten’, habían llegado ‘they/you had arrived’. The -ra imperfect subjunctive form of the verb can also sometimes have an indicative pluperfect meaning in literary Spanish: see 18.3.2.

18.3.1  Uses of the pluperfect The use of the Spanish pluperfect corresponds quite closely to the English pluperfect. It is used for events or states that preceded some past event and are felt to be relevant to it. Ya habían encendido las luces cuando yo llegué They had already switched on the lights   when I arrived Sabíamos que ya había vendido el coche We knew that (s)he had already sold the car Los patrones estaban celebrando que habían The bosses were celebrating the fact that   llegado a un acuerdo (EM, Mex., dialogue)   they had reached an agreement Yo me había levantado, duchado y desayunado I had got up, showered and   cuando sonó el teléfono (ABE, Pe.)   breakfasted when the phone rang (1)  Colloquially, especially in Latin America, the pluperfect may be expressed by the preterite or, when it refers to habitual actions, by the imperfect: lo encontré donde lo dejé (for . . . donde lo había dejado) (J. M. Lope Blanch, 1991, 152) ‘I found it where I’d left it/where I left it’, le faltaban dos dientes y nunca se puso (Sp. se había puesto) a dieta ni fue (Sp. había ido/iba) al gimnasio (AM, Mex., dialogue) ‘he had two teeth missing and he had never been on a diet or gone to the gym’, cuando terminábamos (for habíamos terminado) volvíamos a casa (habitual) ‘when we had finished, we used to return home’. (2)  The pluperfect is occasionally used to make polite enquiries: ¿usted me había pedido otro té? ‘did you ask for another tea?’

18.3  The pluperfect: general


18.3.2  Pluperfect in -ra The -ra imperfect subjunctive form of Spanish verbs – hablara, dijera, fuera, etc. – descends from the Latin indicative pluperfect: the Latin fueram (Spanish fuera) meant ‘I had been’. The Spanish -ra form gradually acquired a subjunctive meaning and for most purposes it is now identical in use to the -se imperfect subjunctive and is replacing it: see 20.1.3 for further details. But its old indicative pluperfect meaning survives in literature and journalism as a supposedly elegant alternative for the ordinary pluperfect with había. This is a common construction in Latin America, but it is also found in Spain in the media and in writers who fancy themselves as stylists. Lorenzo (1980, 135) complains that it sounds affected. When used thus, the -ra form has no subjunctive meaning. However, this construction occurs only in subordinate, chiefly relative clauses: el libro que había leído ‘the book he had read’ can be recast in ‘elegant’ style as el libro que leyera, but the sentence había leído el libro ‘(s)he had read the book’ cannot be rewritten *leyera el libro. Examples: Fue el único rastro que dejó en el que fuera su It was the only trace she left in what had been   hogar de casada por cinco horas (GGM, Col.,   her marital home for five hours   for había sido) Personajes de televisión recuerdan el que fuera TV personalities recall what was their favourite   su juguete especial (El Universo, Ec.)   toy China investiga al que fuera su máximo China investigates person who was its head of   responsable de seguridad (La Jornada, Mex.)   security Parece ser además que en el solar donde se It seems, moreover, that the palace once stood   construyera el hotel se alzaba antes el palacio   on the land where the hotel had been built   (AG, Sp.) Había sido, se había construido would have been equally correct in the previous examples and preferable for many people. (1)  One even finds examples of the imperfect subjunctive in -se used as an indicative pluperfect in the same contexts as the -ra form described above: así había dado con el hombre capaz, muy versado en asuntos económicos, que conociese en la Logia (AC, Cu., for había conocido or conociera) ‘he had thus come across the able man, well-versed in economic matters, whom he had met in the (Masonic) Lodge’. But this is rare on both continents and rather forced. (2)  Use of the -ra pluperfect in spoken Spanish is typical of Galicians since the -ra form still has an indicative pluperfect meaning in Galician (and in Portuguese).

18.3.3 -ra and -se verb forms after después (de) que, desde que, ­luego(de) que, etc. The rule for the choice of verb form after después (de) que, desde que and luego (de) que ‘after’, and a los pocos/dos/cinco días de que ‘a few/two/five days after’ is: subjunctive for as yet unfulfilled events – comeremos después de que lleguen los demás ‘we’ll eat after the rest arrive’ – and indicative for fulfilled events: comimos después de que llegaron los demás ‘we ate after the rest arrived’. If the subject of both verbs is the same después (de) que is replaced by después de + infinitive: nos fuimos después de haber hecho todo ‘we left after we had done everything’. Further examples: . . . después de que las hijas mayores la . . . after the elder daughters (had)   ayudaron a poner un poco de orden en los   helped her to put a bit of order in   estragos de la boda (GGM, Col.)   the devastation left by the wedding

232 Use of indicative (non-­continuous) compound tenses   después de que Victoriano Huerta mató a . . . after Victoriano Huerta killed Madero   Madero (AM, Mex., dialogue) Desde que se casó, Octavia nunca volvió a From the moment she got married,  besarme (ABE, Pe. Or después de que . . .)   Octavia never kissed me again However, we find the -ra or more rarely the -se verb forms frequently used even for fulfilled events in the past and even with subordinators like desde que ‘from the moment that . . .’, which usually introduces fulfilled events. This is presumably a survival of the -ra pluperfect discussed at 18.3.2: . . . después de que Nigeria hiciese pública su . . . after Nigeria made public its decision to   decisión de firmar el acta (El País, Sp.)   sign the communiqué/minutes Vargas Llosa, que conserva muchos amigos en Vargas Llosa, who has kept many friends in   Barcelona desde que residiera en España   Barcelona from when he lived in Spain  (Abc, Sp.) La corte frenó la ejecución luego que la Corte The court suspended the execution after the   Suprema declarara la inconstitucionalidad   Supreme Court declared the system of   del sistema de pena de muerte   the death penalty unconstitutional  (Excélsior, Mex.)

18.4  Pretérito anterior: hube hablado, hube acabado, etc. This tense, which has no equivalent in English, is formed with the preterite of haber plus the past participle and is used to indicate that an event terminated just before another past event. It is normally confined to literature and is now extremely rare in speech: Cuando hubieron terminado de reírse, When they had finished laughing, they   examinaron mi situación personal   examined my personal situation   (A. Cancela, quoted Esbozo, 3.18.7) Le escribió el mismo día, no bien se hubo He wrote to her the same day, when she   marchado (LG, Sp.)   had only just left . . . así que, una vez que me hube quitado la . . . so, as soon as I had taken my blouse off   blusa . . . (ES, Arg., dialogue) Cuando se hubo fumado el último de sus When he had smoked the last of his cigars  cigarros (MS, Mex.)   (or ‘cigarettes’) (1)  This tense is used after después (de) que ‘after’, luego que, así que, no bien, enseguida que, en cuanto, tan pronto como and apenas, all translatable as ‘as soon as’, and after cuando and other phrases of similar meaning, to emphasize that the event was completed just before the main event in the sentence. In ordinary language it is expressed by the preterite: tan pronto como llegamos, pasamos al comedor ‘as soon as we (had) arrived, we went through to the dining room’, pero apenas entró cambió de opinión (JI, Mex., dialogue) ‘but he’d hardly entered when he changed his mind’, apenas terminamos el almuerzo llegó Casals (MP, Arg., dialogue) ‘we’d scarcely finished lunch when Casals arrived’. It can also be replaced by the pluperfect: apenas había ordenado el señor juez el levanta­ miento del cadáver para llevarlo al depósito judicial, rompieron el silencio unos gritos de mujer (FGP, Sp.) ‘the judge had scarcely ordered the removal of the body to the official morgue when the silence was broken by women shouting’ (or ‘a woman shouting’). (2) The pretérito anterior refers to a single completed event. After the same time phrases, repeated or habitual events are expressed by the ordinary pluperfect: en cuanto habíamos terminado el trabajo, volvíamos a casa ‘as soon as we had finished work, we used to return home’ or, colloquially, by the imperfect: en cuanto terminábamos el trabajo, volvíamos a casa.

18.6  The future perfect and conditional perfect


(3)  The French equivalent of hube terminado is j’eus fini, or in popular French j’ai eu fini. This tense survives in French, but the pretérito anterior is virtually obsolete in spoken Spanish and is not very common in written styles.

18.5  The pluperfect subjunctive Normally this form, e.g. hubiera hablado, hubiese hablado, is used when Spanish grammar requires that a pluperfect indicative form be put in the subjunctive form. Compare yo estaba convencido de que Raúl lo había hecho ‘I was convinced Raúl had done it’ and yo no estaba convencido de que Raúl lo hubiera/hubiese hecho ‘I wasn’t convinced that Raúl had done it’. (1)  Important: students must remember that forms like hubiera sido, hubiéramos contestado may be alternative forms of the perfect conditional habría sido, habría contestado. See 17.7.5.

18.6  The future perfect and conditional perfect The future perfect, habré hecho ‘I will have done’ and the conditional perfect habría hecho ‘I would have done’ are used in more or less the same ways as their English equivalents. But the following points are worth noting: (a)  the future perfect is very often used to express conjecture or, in questions, mystification or perplexity: se lo habrá dicho Miguel ‘Miguel must have told him/her/you’, ¿dónde lo habrás puesto? ‘where can you have put it?’ The negative expresses a conjecture or may make a statement rhetorical, i.e. it expects or hopes for the answer ‘of course not’: no lo habrán hecho . . . ‘I guess they haven’t done it’ or ‘they can’t have done it, can they?’ In questions, the negative may make a tentative suggestion: ¿no se le habrá olvidado la reunión? (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘you don’t think he may have forgotten the meeting?’ It may also make a question rhetorical, i.e. it expects or hopes for the answer ‘no’: ¿no la habrás vuelto a llamar? ‘you haven’t called her again, have you?!’ It may also simply suggest mystification: ¿por qué no se habrá casado? (EM, Mex., dialogue) ‘I wonder why he didn’t get married’. (b)  the conditional pluperfect frequently occurs in conditional sentences of the type ‘if I’d had enough money I would have bought it’ si hubiera tenido suficiente dinero, lo habría/hubiera comprado’. Use of the -ra subjunctive form of haber in this tense is a common alternative, as explained at 17.7.5. The conditional pluperfect with habría, etc., but not with the -ra form of haber, may also express a guess or supposition about the past: se lo habría dicho Miguel ‘Miguel must have told him/her’. In questions, it adds a note of perplexity or anxiety: ¿no se lo habría dicho Miguel? ‘it couldn’t be that Miguel told her, could it?’, ¿la habría oído? (CMG, Sp., dialogue) ‘could he possibly have heard her?’, en el saco no estaba, tampoco en la mesa. ¿Lo habría perdido? (ES, Mex. Saco = la chaqueta in Spain) ‘it [the watch] wasn’t in his jacket or on the table either. Could he have lost it?’ (1) As far as we know, use of the perfect for the future perfect (i.e. to mean ‘will have done something’) is confined to colloquial language in Madrid and central Spain: para mañana ya lo he acabado = . . . ya lo habré acabado ‘I’ll have finished it by tomorrow’. See 17.4.8 for Latin-American alternatives.

19 Continuous forms of verbs The main points discussed in this chapter are: • Estoy hablando, están cenando, etc., compared with English ‘I’m talking’, ‘they’re having dinner’ (Section 19.1.2) • Uses of the Spanish continuous forms (Section 19.2) • The preterite continuous (estuve hablando, etc.) (Section 19.2.3) • Restrictions on the use of the Spanish continuous (Section 19.3) • The continuous form of ser (Section 19.4) • Continuous forms in Latin-American Spanish (Section 19.5)

19.1 The continuous: general 19.1.1 Forms and equivalents of the continuous The continuous forms of Spanish verbs are formed with the appropriate tense of estar ‘to be’ and the gerund: estoy hablando ‘I’m talking’, estaban comiendo ‘they were eating’, estaremos escribiendo ‘we’ll be writing’, etc. The forms of the gerund are discussed at 24.2. Spanish continuous forms can appear in any tense except the pretérito anterior (discussed at 18.4). Spanish thus differs from French, which has no continuous verb forms, and Italian, which uses the continuous only in the present and imperfect tenses. The Spanish continuous is becoming increasingly common, which may reflect the influence of English. The Academy’s Esbozo . . ., 3.12.5, complains about the modern over-use of the continuous. One unnecessary Anglicism is found in letters in sentences like le estamos abonando en su cuenta la cantidad de dos mil pesos ‘we are depositing in your account the sum of 2,000 pesos’ (for le abonamos . . .) or en este paquete te estoy mandando los libros que me pediste ‘I’m sending the books you asked me for in this parcel’ (for te mando . . . Examples from NGLE 28.12s). (1) Important: the verb estar is itself never used in the continuous form: **está estando is not Spanish. Está siendo is however possible: see 19.4.

19.1.2 The Spanish continuous and the English progressive compared English speakers tend to assume that Spanish continuous forms, e.g. estoy leyendo, estaban hablando, etc. are the equivalent of the much-used English progressive verb forms like. ‘I’m reading’, ‘they were talking’. However, there are several important differences: (a) the present and imperfect tenses of the Spanish continuous refer to actions that are or were actually in progress (i.e. have or had already begun) or are or were being repeated, whereas the English progressive is constantly also used as a future tense and also, sometimes, to express habits: Estoy comiendo Estabas hablando

I’m (actually) eating (right now) You were (in the middle of) talking

19.1  The continuous: general


But Llegamos mañana We’re arriving tomorrow (future) Si te pones así, me voy If you get like that, I’m going (future) Mi hijo va a un colegio mixto My son is going to a mixed (i.e. co   educational) school (habitual) Te envío esta carta para decirte que . . . I’m sending you this letter to tell you that . . .   (really means ‘I’m about to send’) Se casan (se están casando suggests they They’re getting married (i.e. they are   are in mid-ceremony)   going to get married) Yo salía a la mañana siguiente para París I was leaving the following morning   for Paris (future in the past) Hoy el Barça juega en casa Today Barcelona is/are playing at   home (está jugando possible if the   game has begun) See 19.5b for exceptions to this rule in the spoken Spanish of some Latin-American regions. (b)  The Spanish continuous is rarely used with the common verbs ir, venir, volver (but see 19.5a for exceptions in parts of Latin America): ¿Adónde vas? Viene la policía Yo volvía cuando te vi Ya voy (see note 1)

Where are you going? The police are coming I was coming back when I saw you I’m coming (see note 1)

(c)  The Spanish continuous adds a nuance to, but does not always radically alter the meaning of the non-continuous verb form, so the two are sometimes virtually interchangeable. This tends to confuse English speakers, who sense a clear difference between ‘she smokes’ and ‘she’s smoking’: ¡Que se queman/se están quemando las The sausages are burning!   salchichas! Yo hablaba con Mario I was talking to Mario/I used to talk   to Mario Yo estaba hablando con Mario I was talking to Mario (but not ‘I used to . . .’) —¿Qué haces? —Leo esta revista (SV, Ch., ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m reading   dialogue; or —¿Qué estás haciendo?   this magazine.’  —Estoy leyendo . . .) No te conocía, ¿qué te pasa? Hablas raro I didn’t recognize you. What’s the   (CMG, Sp., dialogue)   matter with you? You’re talking strangely No sé qué te pasa por la mente, Carlitos. No sé I don’t know what’s going through your, en qué piensas (MS, Mex., dialogue)   mind, Carlitos. I don’t know what you’re   thinking about El otro hombre está sentado en un sillón. Fuma The other man is seated/is sitting in an   (El País, Sp.)    armchair. He is smoking As the NGLE 28.12g points out, in spoken Spanish the continuous form is nowadays preferred when the action is already in progress. Thus no me molestes, estoy trabajando is more usual than . . . trabajo ‘don’t bother me. I’m working’. (d)  A number of common Spanish verbs do not appear in the continuous form, whereas their English counterparts do. See 19.3 for discussion.

236 Continuous forms of verbs (1)  One says voy or ya voy for ‘I’m coming’ (in answer to the question ‘where are you?’) because one is leaving the place one is at, not coming towards it. English uses ‘go’ and ‘come’ vaguely, cf. ‘are you coming/going to Sally’s party?’ Spanish clearly distinguishes between venir ‘to come’ and ir ‘to go’.

19.1.3 Further remarks on the relationship between the simple ­present tense and the present continuous The simple present tense, escribo, hago, etc., is imprecise: it may indicate present, future, habitual events, eternal truths or even past events (see 17.3 and 17.6.3). Present continuous forms are much more specifically present: compare fuma ‘(s)he smokes’ or ‘(s)he’s smoking’ and está fumando ‘(s)he’s (actually) smoking (now)’. An action must be perceived to have started for the continuous to be possible. Spanish informants said está lloviendo on seeing rain through a window, and thought that llueve, in this case, sounded vaguely poetic or archaic. But most avoided the continuous in the sentences asómate a ver si llueve ‘look out and see if it’s raining’ and ¿llueve o no llueve? ‘is it raining or not?’, thereasonapparently being that the speaker has not seen or heard rain falling (in this and several other cases, Latin-American informants tended to use the continuous more readily). Similarly, when someone up a tree shouts in English ‘I’m falling!’, (s)he literally means ‘I’m going to fall’, not ‘I’m already in mid-air’, so a Spanish speaker shouts ¡que me caigo!, not *¡que me estoy cayendo! (1)  With some verbs that refer to actions that are more or less prolonged events, e.g. leer ‘to read’, charlar ‘to chat’, dormir ‘to sleep’, or where the duration of an action is emphasized, the continuous makes better Spanish than the simple form. Most informants thought that está leyendo ‘he’s reading’ was better than lee in reply to the question ¿qué hace Miguel? ‘what’s Miguel doing?’. (2)  When an action is of very short duration, i.e. it cannot be extended, as is the case with verbs like toser ‘to cough’, romper ‘to break’, firmar ‘to sign’, golpear ‘to hit’, etc., the continuous can normally only indicate a series of repeated actions, as in English: estaba tosiendo ‘(s)he was coughing’. See 19.2.4.

19.2  Uses of the continuous forms 19.2.1  Continuous used to emphasize events in progress The main use of the continuous forms is to emphasize that an event has or had already begun and is or was continuing at the time: Ahora no se puede poner—está haciendo sus (S)he can’t come to the phone now —  cuentas (not . . . hace sus cuentas)   (s)he’s doing his/her accounts Estaba dándole una propina al mozo que me I was (just) giving a tip to the boy   había subido la maleta cuando sonó el   who’d carried my bags up when  teléfono (LSP, Ch.)   the phone rang ¿No será que usted ha olvidado de qué le It couldn’t be, could it, that you’ve forgotten   estoy hablando? (CF, Mex., dialogue)   what I’m talking to you about? Pero ¡si te estoy escuchando!/¡si te escucho! But I am listening to you! El rostro de María sonreía. Es decir, ya no Maria’s face was smiling. I mean, it   sonreía, pero había estado sonriendo un   wasn’t smiling now, but it had been   décimo de segundo antes (ES, Arg.)   smiling a tenth of a second before

19.2  Uses of the continuous forms


(1)  In the case of the imperfect tense, the continuous and non-continuous are more or less interchangeable if they really refer to the past and the action is not habitual; i.e. pensaba and estaba pensando both mean ‘I/(s)he was thinking’/‘you were thinking’. See 17.5.5 for discussion. (2)  For the preterite continuous, estuve durmiendo/pensando, etc. See 19.2.3.

19.2.2  Continuous used to denote temporary or surprising events The continuous may optionally be used to show that an action is temporary or in some way unusual or surprising: Vive en París, pero últimamente está (S)he lives in Paris, but at the moment  viviendo/vive en Madrid   (s)he’s living in Madrid ¡Qué sueño me está entrando! (CMG, Sp., I suddenly feel so sleepy!  dialogue) ¿Me estás diciendo que un hombre civilizado, Are you telling me that a civilized   un filósofo para colmo, prefiere convertirse en   man, a philosopher on top of that,  soldado? (JV, Mex., dialogue)   prefers to become a soldier?! —¿En qué estábamos pensando tú y yo ‘Would you mind explaining to me what   cuando engendramos a estos seres, me   were we thinking of when we conceived   quieres explicar?—le pregunta la madre   these creatures?’ the mother asks the father   al padre (CRG, Sp., dialogue; or en qué  pensábamos)

19.2.3  The preterite continuous The preterite continuous, estuve hablando/comiendo ‘I was speaking/eating for a time’ has no counterpart in English. It adds a nuance to the non-continuous preterite, i.e. that an action was ­prolonged over a period but is also viewed as finished. The non-continuous preterite simply states that the event happened. (For more on the use of the preterite for finite periods see 17.4.2): Estuve hablando dos horas con tu hermano I spent two hours talking to your brother Estuve andando hasta el amanecer (SP, Sp.) I was walking/walked until dawn Ahí está el libro que me hizo perder pie . . . lo There’s the book I tripped over . . . I don’t   estuve buscando antes no sé cuánto rato   know how long I spent looking for it   (CMG, Sp., dialogue) Acuérdense, el señor ese con el que Remember, that gentleman we had an   estuvimos tomando nieves en el zócalo de   ice-cream with in the main square in  Atlixco (AM, Mex., dialogue; nieves =   Atlixco . . .   helados in Spain) (1)  When a period is viewed as finished the action itself may still continue: estuve leyendo durante tres horas, y después continué leyendo hasta el amanecer ‘I read for three hours and afterwards I went on reading until morning’. (2)  The preterite continuous is really only possible with verbs that refer to naturally drawn-out actions, e.g. ‘think’, ‘talk’, ‘read’, ‘wait’, ‘eat’, etc. Verbs that refer to instantaneous actions cannot be extended: *estuvo rompiendo una ventana ‘(s)he was breaking a window (for a certain time)’ is not possible. Instantaneous actions can, however, be repeated over a period of time: estuvo disparando al aire durante tres minutos ‘(s)he spent three minutes firing into the air’. This tense is not used with ser: fui policía durante diez años ‘I was a policeman/woman for ten years’, never **estuve siendo . . .

238 Continuous forms of verbs

19.2.4  Continuous to express repeated events The continuous may emphasize the idea that an event is or has been constantly recurring. In this case the event may not actually be occurring at the moment: Está yendo mucho al cine estos días (S)he’s going to the cinema a lot these days En sus diarios siempre está hablando de la In his diaries he’s always talking about the   familia (JC, Sp.)   family Lleva años que se está yendo pero nunca acaba (S)he’s been leaving for years but   de irse   never gets round to going Está haciendo frío It’s been cold lately/The weather’s   cold at the moment Pero está usted tomando muy seguido esas But you’re taking those herbs over   hierbas y seguido hacen daño (AM, Mex.   long periods, and they cause harm   Dialogue. See 35.3.3 note 2 for this   when taken continuously   adverbial use of seguido) (1)  In general, ir and venir are little used in the continuous form except to denote repetition: había estado yendo y viniendo con charolas de tragos y botanas toda la tarde (GZ, Mex.) ‘he’d been coming and going with trays of drinks and snacks all afternoon and evening’ (in Spain charolas = bandejas, tragos = bebidas and botanas = pinchos). Continuous forms of ir and venir are somewhat more common in Latin America. See 19.5. (2)  Tener is also found in the continuous to refer to repeated events: estoy teniendo problemas con los vecinos ‘I’m having problems with the neighbours’. But the continuous is not used for single events: tiene un problema con el vecino, not *está teniendo un problema con el vecino (s)he’s got a ­problem with the neighbour’.

19.2.5  Future and conditional continuous The future continuous is used either (a) to describe events which will already have begun at a certain time in the future, or (b) to conjecture about what may actually be happening at this moment: Mañana a estas horas estaremos volando Tomorrow at this time we’ll be flying   sobre el Pacífico   over the Pacific ¿Qué sabes tú lo que es vivir para ponerle What do you know about living in   las zapatillas a un hombre? Pruébalo dos   order to put a man’s slippers on?   meses y al tercero ya estarás maldiciendo   Try it for two months and by the   tu destino (TM, Sp., dialogue)   third you’ll be cursing your fate! Estarán comiendo a estas horas They’ll probably be eating at this time of day ¿Qué estará haciendo ahora el hombre en la I wonder what the man in the Mir Space   Estación Espacial Mir? (DES, Mex.,   Station is doing now  dialogue) Pero, ¿vas a estar esperándola todo el día? But are you going to keep on waiting   for her all day?! (1)  The future perfect continuous can also be used to express conjectures: no me habrás estado esperando, ya te dije que no te preocuparas (CMG, Sp., dialogue) ‘I hope you haven’t been waiting for me, I told you not to worry’. (2)  The conditional continuous is used like its English counterpart ‘would be . . . -ing’: yo sabía que a esa hora estarían comiendo ‘I knew that at that time they would be eating’. It can also express conjectures or suppositions about events that may have been going on: —¿Por qué no contestaba al

19.3  Restrictions on the use of the continuous


teléfono? —Estaría durmiendo ‘“Why wasn’t (s)he answering the phone?” “(S)he must have been sleeping.”’

19.3  Restrictions on the use of the continuous (a)  Continuous forms are not commonly used with certain verbs that refer to inner mental activities, e.g. aborrecer ‘to loathe’, amar ‘to love’, odiar ‘to hate’, saber ‘to know’: odio tener que quedarme en casa ‘I hate having to stay at home’. In this respect Spanish and English more or less coincide, but some verbs which denote inner states or ‘invisible’ actions may appear in the continuous in Spanish but not in English, e.g. No estaba creyendo nada de lo que ella She didn’t believe a word she said   decía (AG, Sp., dialogue) Estoy viendo que vamos a acabar mal I can see we’re going to end badly Asegura que está deseando conocerte He insists that he wants to meet you   (ABV, Sp. dialogue) Aún así, todo el dolor y todo el esfuerzo está Despite all this, all the suffering and   mereciendo la pena (CORPES, Sp.)   all the effort is worthwhile Estoy temiendo que va a llegar tarde I’m afraid (s)he’s going to arrive late The last two of these examples would be more usually expressed by simple tenses: merece . . .,temo . . . (b)  The continuous is not used to describe states rather than actions. English often allows the progressive form for states: Normalmente lleva corbata azul, pero hoy Normally he wears a blue tie, but   lleva una corbata roja   today he’s wearing a red tie Tres arañas de luces colgaban del techo Three chandeliers were hanging from   the roof Lo que falta es . . . What’s lacking is . . . La luna brillaba alta, con reflejos plateados The moon was shining silver beams high in   (GZ, Mex.)   the sky Parece cansada (see note 4) She’s looking tired ¡Qué bien huele la madreselva hoy! Isn’t the honeysuckle smelling good today! (c)  The continuous is not used with estar (*estar estando is not Spanish), poder, haber or, usually,atleast in European and standard literary Spanish, with ir, venir, regresar, volver, andar, except in the frequentative sense discussed at 19.2.4. For more remarks on Latin-American usage see 19.5: ¿Adónde vas? Where are you going? Viene ahora (S)he’s coming now Cuando volvíamos del cine (me) subí When we were coming back from the cinema   un momento a ver a la abuela   I went up to see grandmother for a  moment Estás pesado hoy You’re being a pain today (d) Important: verbs that describe physical posture or position, e.g. se sienta ‘(s)he sits down’, se agachó ‘(s)he crouched’, can refer only to an action, not to a state. English speakers constantly mistranslate sentences like ‘he’s sitting down’ by está sentándose when they almost always mean está sentado ‘he is seated’. See 23.4 for details.

240 Continuous forms of verbs (1)  Use of the continuous with other ‘mental’ verbs is rare, but not impossible if the action is presented as changing or increasing, as in te estoy queriendo cada vez más ‘I’m getting to love you more and more’, estoy sabiendo cada vez más cosas sobre ese amigo tuyo tan misterioso ‘I’m finding more and more out about that mysterious friend of yours’ (from GDLE (2)  Doler ‘to hurt’ may appear in either form, much as in English: me duele/me está doliendo la ­barriga ‘my belly aches/is aching’. La barriga = ‘belly’ or ‘intestines’. Prudish English speakers who call their intestines their ‘stomach’ (el estómago) cause great anatomical confusion. Los intestinos, la tripa or la barriga are not indelicate words. (3) For the continuous of tener ‘to have’ see 19.2.4. (4) Parecer ‘to seem’ occasionally appears in the continuous: la situación me está pareciendo/me parece cada vez más fea ‘the situation’s looking uglier and uglier to me’.

19.4  Continuous forms of ser Some grammarians have claimed that forms like está siendo ‘(s)he/it is being’ are borrowed from English, but they are not uncommon, especially in Latin America, and they occur in speech as well as in writing to judge by the dialogue of some novels. It seems unreasonable to deny to Spanish the nuance that distinguishes our ‘he was good’ from ‘he was being good’. The Academy (NGLE 28.12m) does not object: Por un instante pensó que de algún modo él, For an instant he thought that he,   Martín, estaba de verdad siendo necesario   Martin, was really being necessary   a aquel ser atormentado (ES, Arg.)    to that tormented creature La convocatoria a las distintas The people attending the different   manifestaciones está siendo variada   demonstrations come from various   (La Vanguardia, Sp.)   sources (lit. ‘the calling to the   several demonstrations is varied’) Yo no estoy siendo juzgado (CF, Mex., I’m not being judged  dialogue) Estás siendo muy bueno hoy You’re being very good today

19.5  Latin-American uses of the continuous Written – or at least printed – Latin-American Spanish seems to obey the same rules as European Spanish as far as the use of the continuous is concerned. However, there are numerous regional colloquial variants, and it seems, in general, that the continuous is used more extensively in Latin-American speech than in Spain. (a)  In many places, the continuous of ir, venir and other verbs of motion is heard: —Estamos yendo a Pato Huachana —dijo ‘We’re going to Pato Huachana,’ Lalita  Lalita (MVLl, Pe., dialogue)   said Estaba yendo a tomar un café con leche en I was on my way to Brosa to have a  Brosa (ibid.)   white coffee ¿Cómo le va yendo? (Chile, quoted Kany, How are things with you?   282; Sp. ¿Cómo le va?) Él está yendo a una de esas escuelas que He’s going to one of those schools I had   mandé a construir cuando el oro abundaba   built when there was plenty of gold   (ET, Mex., dialogue. Sp. mandé construir)  around

19.5  Latin-American uses of the continuous


In Spain one would use vamos, iba, le va, va in these sentences, but forms like están viniendo ‘they’re coming’ seem to be spreading among younger people. (b)  In colloquial language in a number of places including Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, the present continuous is used, as in English, to express a pre-scheduled future: mañana estoy yendo a París ‘tomorrow I’m going to Paris’ (= mañana voy a París), nos estamos viendo ‘see you later’/‘I’ll be seeing you’ This is not found in European or literary Latin-American Spanish. (1)  Kany, 282ff., reports that in the Andean region, including Chile, verbs like poder, tener, haber also appear in the continuous form, especially in popular styles: estás pudiendo = puedes ‘you can’, ¿está habiendo? ‘is there any?’ (Spain ¿hay?). This usage is not heard in standard Spanish. However, the Peninsular colloquial form irse yendo is worth noting: me voy a ir yendo (CMG, Sp., dialogue), ‘I’m on my way/I’m off/I’m out of here’. (2)  In colloquial Mexican, andar is much used instead of estar to form the continuous: ando ­trabajando ‘I’m working’, ¿qué andas haciendo? ‘what are you doing?’, no andará tomando tan ­temprano, ¿verdad? (EM, Mex., dialogue, Sp. tomando = bebiendo [alcohol]) ‘surely he isn’t drinking this early, is he?’ Similar forms with andar are sometimes heard in popular speech in Spain, e.g.¿qué andas haciendo? for ¿qué estás haciendo?, but andar + gerund normally means ‘to go around doing something’; see 24.8.1 for discussion and examples.

20 The subjunctive This chapter discusses the following topics: • General remarks on the Spanish subjunctive (Section 20.1) • Words that may trigger the subjunctive in all types of clause, including words meaning ‘perhaps’ (Section 20.2) • The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced by the conjunction que (Section 20.3) • The subjunctive in clauses introduced by other subordinators (Section 20.4) • Translating ‘whether . . . or’, ‘however’, ‘whatever’, ‘whoever’, ‘whichever’, ‘the more . . . the more . . .’, ‘wherever’ (Section 20.5) • The subjunctive in relative clauses see Chapter 39 • Use of the subjunctive to make imperatives see Chapter 21 • Tense agreement: subjunctive (Section 20.8) • The future subjunctive (Section 20.9) • Appendix to chapter Some topics likely to interest advanced students are treated in the Appendix to this chapter: • The subjunctive and ‘uncertainty’, advantages of the Spanish subjunctive, regional variations in the use of the subjunctive, Subjunctive ‘contamination’ (Sections 20.10–13)

20.1 General remarks on the Spanish subjunctive 20.1.1 The difficulties posed by the Spanish subjunctive The subjunctive is constantly used in Spanish in all styles and countries, but it is a notorious problem for English-speaking learners. The main reasons for this are: • English speakers often see no point to the subjunctive now that it is almost obsolete in their own language. Section 20.11 lists some examples of what English loses by lacking an equivalent of the Spanish subjunctive. • Manuals of Spanish repeatedly claim that the subjunctive has a ‘meaning’ associated with ‘doubt’ or ‘uncertainty’. This is so misleading that it is confusing to say so. Section 20.10 discusses this problem further. • There is no single underlying rule that explains the use of the Spanish subjunctive – or if there is it is too complicated to be useful. The best approach is simply to learn when to use the subjunctive without asking ‘why?’ or ‘what does it mean?’ • The rules for the use of the Spanish subjunctive have arbitrary and disconcerting exceptions. Why, for example, do we say quizás lleguen mañana (subjunctive) but a lo mejor llegan mañana (indicative) when both mean ‘perhaps they/you will arrive tomorrow’?

20.1.2 Forms of the subjunctive There are three simple, i.e. non-compound, tenses of the Spanish subjunctive: present, imperfect and future. Only the first two are in everyday use: the present, formed as explained at 16.7.5, and the imperfect, of which there are two forms, one in -ra and one in -se. The latter two forms are explained at 16.7.6 and all the forms are shown at 16.3. The relationship between the -ra and

20.2  Words that may trigger the subjunctive in all types ofclause


-se forms is discussed in the next section. The future subjunctive, discussed at 20.9, is virtually obsolete. Compound tenses of the subjunctive, e.g. haya hablado, hubiera/hubiese hablado (also mentioned at 18.2.9 and 18.5), and continuous forms of the subjunctive, e.g. esté hablando, estuviera/estuviese hablando, are also common.

20.1.3  The -ra and -se imperfect subjunctive forms compared The -ra and -se forms are interchangeable when they are used as subjunctives, and the two forms are shown side by side in the unattributed examples in this book. The -ra form is much more frequent everywhere, is gaining ground, and in some parts of Latin America has all but replaced the-se form in speech, if not in writing. The -ra form also has a few uses with an indicative meaning that it does not share with the -se form. These are discussed at 18.3.2 and 18.3.3. The -ra form is also used in a few set phrases: see 20.2.7.

20.1.4  Regional variations in the use of the subjunctive There are a few variations, most of them colloquial or popular, in the use of the subjunctive that students may encounter on both continents. These are discussed in the Appendix to this chapter,20.12.

20.2 Words that may trigger the subjunctive in all types ofclause This section deals with words that often or always trigger the subjunctive whether they appear in main clauses or subordinate clauses.

20.2.1  Tal vez, and quizá(s) ‘perhaps’, posiblemente, probablemente With all these words, when the event referred to is happening in the present or happened in the past, use of the subjunctive is optional. The subjunctive makes the possibility of the event rather weaker: Tal vez fuese una discusión auténtica. Tal Maybe it was a real dispute. Maybe   vez representaban una comedia en mi   they were putting on an act for my   honor (interview, Madrid press; both   benefit   moods used) Tal vez debió irse (El País, Sp., or debiera/ Perhaps he should have gone/resigned   debiese haberse ido) Tal vez tengamos algo de culpa nosotros mismos Perhaps we’re partly to blame ourselves   (SV, Ch., dialogue) Quizá ni siquiera entabláramos conversación Perhaps we didn’t even start up a   (JM, Sp.)   conversation Quizá hubo momentos en los que pude ser Maybe there were moments when I could   más estricto (La Jornada, Mex., interview)   have been more strict Quizá algunos de los encargados de allí Perhaps some of the people in charge   fueran protestantes (ibid.)   there were Protestants Posiblemente quedara algo de alcohol etílico Possibly there was still some ethyl   en nuestras venas humorísticas (GGM, Col.)   alcohol left in the veins of our humour

244 The subjunctive Probablemente en ningún momento te Probably you never left the room for a   fuiste del cuarto . . . (JC, Arg., dialogue)   moment Probablemente el mérito sea de Ada You can probably thank Ada for that   (CRG, Sp., dialogue) If the event is still in the future, the present subjunctive or the future indicative or the conditional can be used, but not a present or past indicative tense. English-speakers constantly say *quizás viene mañana for the correct quizás venga mañana. Tal vez me lo expliques cuando te llegue la Perhaps you’ll explain it to me when   hora (LS, Ch., dialogue)   the time’s right for you Quizá España podrá desempeñar un papel Perhaps Spain will be able to play a   particularmente activo . . . (El País, Sp.)   particularly active role . . . Quizá sería la mejor solución . . . Maybe it would be the best solution Posiblemente esta/ésta sea la camioneta más Possibly this is/may be the most luxurious   lujosa que hayas visto en tu vida   minibus you’ve seen in your life  (Excélsior, Mex.) If the event was still in the future, only the imperfect subjunctive, pluperfect subjunctive or the conditional can be used: quizá/tal vez vinieran/viniesen/vendrían al día siguiente (not *venían) ‘perhaps they would come the following day’, tal vez habría sido un buen padre (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘maybe he’d have been a good father’. (1)  Both quizá and quizás are acceptable, but the former is more common in formal writing in Spain according to Manuel Seco. Quizás seems to be preferred before words beginning with a vowel, a practice recommended by El País. Tal vez (written talvez in Latin America) and quizá(s) are equally common in both continents. (2)  The conditional is common after these words to make the statement more tentative: quizá habría que revisar asimismo estos conceptos (AG, Sp.) ‘it may also be necessary to modify these ideas’, tal vez el presidente prolongaría su periodo y tomaría medidas extremas contra los izquierdistas (JA, Mex.) ‘perhaps the president would prolong his stay in office and take extreme measures against the left-wingers’. (3) Important: the subjunctive can only be used if the word meaning ‘perhaps’ precedes the verb it modifies: one can only say era, tal vez, un efecto de esta política . . . ‘it was, perhaps, an effect of this policy . . .’, but tal vez era/fuera/fuese un efecto . . .

20.2.2  Acaso Acaso can mean ‘perhaps’ and it obeys the same rules as quizá(s), but it is rather literary in this meaning: acaso comprendía ahora el error de haberse confiado en la capacidad del mito de Perón para gobernar a una sociedad compleja (MSQ, Arg.) ‘perhaps she now understood the mistake of having relied on the ability of the Perón myth to govern a complex society’, . . . una generación que acaso no volviera a ser feliz fuera de sus retratos (GGM, Col.) ‘. . . a generation that would perhaps never again be happy outside its portraits’. It is more often found with the indicative in all styles in rhetorical, often sarcastic, questions, i.e. ones to which the speaker already knows the answer: ¿Acaso has visto alguna vez que no Have you ever known it not to   llueva en verano? (implies ‘of   rain in summer? (lit. ‘have you   course you haven’t . . .’)   ever seen that it didn’t rain in summer?’) ¿Acaso no tiene quien le lave la ropa en casa? Don’t you have someone at home to wash   (GZ, Mex., dialogue)   your clothes?

20.2  Words that may trigger the subjunctive in all types ofclause


¿Acaso todos los paganos no odian Don’t all the Indians (lit. ‘pagans’)   a los huambisas? (MVLl, Pe., dialogue)   hate the Huambisa tribe? (1)  In colloquial Mexican a poco . . . can mean more or less the same: ¿a poco crees que no se iban a dar cuenta?(MC, Mex., dialogue)‘do you really think they wouldn’t realize?’

20.2.3  A lo mejor and de repente These also mean ‘perhaps’ but they do not take the subjunctive. (a)  A lo mejor is very common on both continents and is more typical of spoken language or informal writing: A lo mejor se ha quedado en casa Perhaps/Maybe (s)he’s stayed at home Ni siquiera la nombró. A lo mejor se ha He didn’t even mention her. Maybe   olvidado de ella (MVLl, Pe., dialogue)   he’s forgotten her A lo mejor el loco era él (EP, Mex.) Maybe he was the lunatic (b)  De repente is widely used in informal Latin-American speech to mean ‘perhaps’ but it can also mean ‘suddenly’, this being its only meaning in Spain. It does not take the subjunctive: o porque, de repente, nosotros somos los autores de esos anónimos . . . ¿Se le ha ocurrido, no? (MVLl, Pe., dialogue) ‘or because, perhaps, we’re the authors of those anonymous letters . . . That thought’s occurred to you, hasn’t it?’

20.2.4  Igual, lo mismo These are used to mean ‘perhaps’ in familiar speech in Spain, but not in writing, and they are followed by the indicative: yo no sé lo que me espera hoy. Igual llego tarde (CRG, Sp., dialogue) ‘I don’t know what’s in store for me today. Maybe I’ll get back late’; llama a la puerta. Lo mismo te da una propina ‘knock on the door. Maybe he’ll give you a tip’. These words are not used in Latin America to mean ‘perhaps’, although the variant igual y . . .. occurs colloquially in Mexico: a veces cuando un lazo se estrecha de más (Sp. demasiado), en lugar de unir corta lo que amarraba. Igual y eso fue (AM, Mex., dialogue) ‘sometimes when a bond (i.e. between two people) grows too tight, instead of joining it cuts what it was holding together. Maybe that was it’. Latin Americans may interpret igual as ‘anyway’/‘all the same’ as in también mi estómago se mueve pero igual estoy contento (MB, Ur., dialogue) ‘my stomach’s churning too, but I’m happy all the same’.

20.2.5  Words that express a wish These are such words as ojalá, ya, así, quién – the latter is a special use of the word which more usually means ‘who?’ They require the subjunctive. ¡Ojalá nos toque la lotería! Ojalá se le queme el arroz (AA, Cu. dialogue) . . . y pensé quién fuera escritor . . . (ABE, Pe.) Ya/Así fueran/fuesen como tú todas las mujeres Así se te pegue mi catarro! (parodies a   gypsy curse)

Let’s hope we win the lottery! I hope her rice burns . . . and I thought: if only I were a writer If only all women were like you . . . I hope you get my cold!

246 The subjunctive (1)  Que followed by the subjunctive is a very common way of expressing a wish: que te vaya bien ‘let’s hope things go well for you’, que no vuelva a suceder ‘let’s hope it doesn’t happen again’, ¡Que no se vaya! —pensaba —¡que no eche a volar! (AM, Mex., dialogue) ‘”Please don’t let him leave!” Ithought, “don’t let him fly away!”’. These are really sentences in which some main clause like espero que ‘I hope that’ or quiero que ‘want . . .’ has been omitted. (2)  Quién when used thus can only refer to the speaker him/herself, quién fuera millonario can only mean ‘if only I were a millionaire’. It is followed by the imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive. (3)  In some set phrases a subjunctive on its own can express a wish: ¡viva el rey! ‘long live the King!’, ¡mueran los tiranos! ‘death to tyrants!’, Dios te bendiga ‘God bless you’. For more on this see third-person imperatives, 21.6. (4)  The form ojalá y . . . is heard in colloquial Mexican: ojalá y se te haga (JGRI, Mex., dialogue, Sp. ojalá se te haga a ti/ojalá te lo hagan a ti) ‘I hope they do it/the same to you!’

20.2.6  De ahí que This means ‘hence the fact that . . .’ and it usually takes the subjunctive, although the reason for this is not obvious: De ahí que el Papa haya incluso presionado al This is why the Pope has even put   nuevo Gobierno (El País, Sp.)   pressure on the new Government De ahí que en cada nuevo atentado sintieran Hence the fact that with every new terrorist   que recuperaban su primitiva fuerza   attack they felt they were regaining their  (MSQ, Arg.)  original strength But the indicative is possible: de ahí que el costo de la que iba a ser vivienda presidencial, su aparatosa opulencia, resultaban difícilmente compatibles con la austeridad que debía evidenciar el jefe de una administración (La Jornada, Mex.) ‘hence the fact that the cost of what was to be the presidential residence and its spectacular opulence were incompatible with the austerity expected of the head of a government’. (1) It is not clear why phrases meaning ‘the fact that . . .’ usually take the subjunctive when they clearly point to a concrete fact; this point is discussed further at 20.3.19.

20.2.7  Subjunctive in some common set phrases (a)  O sea que ‘in other words’:   Ha dicho que tiene que trabajar, o sea (S)he said (s)he had to work, in other words   que no quiere venir   (s)he doesn’t want to come (b)  Que . . . sepa/que . . . recuerde:   Que yo recuerde es la primera vez As far as I remember it’s the first time I’ve   que lo/le veo   seen him   Nada que yo sepa (JMa, Sp., dialogue) Nothing, as far as I know   Que se sepa nadie lo ha hecho antes As far as is known, no one has done it before (c)  In a few other set phrases:   ¡Acabáramos!   Otro gallo nos cantara

So that’s what it’s all about!/Now I get it! That would have been another story . . .

20.3  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced bythe conjunction que

. . . ni que fueras millonario ¡Vaya tontería! ¡Venga! (constantly heard in Spain)


. . . anyone would think you’re a millionaire What nonsense! OK/fine/right

20.3 The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced bythe conjunction que 20.3.1  General This lengthy section deals with sentences like ‘it is a pity that it rained’, ‘I hope that you’re feeling better’, ‘it’s possible that we’ll get paid tomorrow’, ’I told them to do it’, ‘they didn’t say that they saw a UFO’, where the bold type indicates the main clause and the rest is a subordinate clause. Use of the subjunctive in the subordinate clause depends on the meaning of the main clause, as the translations show (subjunctives in bold): es una pena que haya llovido, espero que te sientas mejor, es posible que nos paguen mañana, les dije que lo hicieran/hiciesen, no dijeron que hubieran/ hubiesen visto un ovni. Note that this section does not deal with relative clauses, e.g. este/éste es el cuadro que pintó Picasso ‘this is the picture that Picasso painted’ or buscamos un hotel que tenga piscina ‘we’re looking for a hotel that has a swimming pool’. These also require the subjunctive in certain circumstances and are discussed at 39.15.

20.3.2  Tense agreement and the subjunctive This is discussed in detail at 20.8. In the majority of cases the following scheme applies: Tense of verb in main clause

Tense of subjunctive verb

Present, Perfect, Future, Imperative


Conditional or any past tense


Le digo/he dicho/diré que se vaya

I tell/have told/will tell him to go away

Le diría/decía/dije/había dicho que I would tell/was telling/told/had told him   se fuera/fuese   to go away (1)  The present subjunctive may refer to the present or to the future. Espero que trabajes can mean either ‘I hope you’re working’ (more likely . . . que estés trabajando) or ‘I hope you’ll work’, confío en que hagas un esfuerzo means ‘I trust you’re making an effort’ or ‘. . . will make an effort’. (2)  Note that for the purposes of agreement the perfect tense – he hablado, han hecho – is usually treated as a present tense: te he dicho que te largues (JM, Sp., dialogue) ‘I told you to beat it/clear off’. See 20.8d for details.

20.3.3 Main clauses that state a fact or a belief, or consist of a question The subjunctive is not used in the subordinate clause when: (a)  the main clause says that an event or fact is, was or will be true: es cierto que hubo una conspi­ ración ‘it’s true that there was a conspiracy’, era obvio que lo había hecho ‘it was obvious that (s)he’d

248 The subjunctive done it’, se prevé que habrá déficit ‘a deficit is forecasted’, se queja de que está cansada ‘she complains that she’s tired’ (quejarse de is usually treated as stating a fact: see 20.3.10 note 1); (b)  when the main clause declares the subject’s belief or opinion that something happened, is happening or will happen: creo que hubo una conspiración ‘I think there was a conspiracy’, yo pensaba que él era más alto ‘I thought he was taller’, dicen que nos llamarán ‘they say they’ll call us’, parece que su mujer está mejor ‘it seems that his wife is feeling better’. There are occasional exceptions to (b) discussed at 20.3.21. (c)  When the main clause is a direct or indirect question: ¿crees que es verdad? ‘do you think it’s true’, ¿sabía usted que Marco es cubano? ‘did you now that Marco is Cuban?’, ¿usted cree que mi vida se vendería? (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘do you think my life story would sell?’. For colloquial LatinAmerican exceptions to this rule see 20.12.1. (1) Important: if the main clause is negative, the subordinate clause usually requires the subjunctive. See the next section. (2)  The phrase el hecho de que ‘the fact that . . .’ and others meaning the same thing usually require the subjunctive. See 20.3.19. (3)  As far as (b) is concerned, Spanish differs from Italian and resembles French. Compare creo que es verdad/je crois que c’est vrai ‘I think it is true’ – both verbs indicative – and Italian credo che sia vero, second verb subjunctive.

20.3.4 Negative main clauses + que generally require a subjunctive in the subordinate clause Important: if the main clause is negated, the verb in the subordinate clause is almost always in the subjunctive: esto no significa que ya sepan todo el uno del otro (La Reforma, Mex.) ‘this does not mean that they already know everything about one another’. See 20.3.15.

20.3.5 If the main clause means ‘it is possible’/‘probable that . . .’, the subjunctive is required This includes main clauses meaning ‘it could happen that . . .’, ‘it is possible that . . .’, ‘the riskthat. . .’, ‘the danger that . . .’, ‘it is inevitable that . . .’, ‘the possibility/probability/likelihood that’. . ., etc.: Es posible que/Puede que haya tormenta There may be a storm Era probable/previsible que sucediera/ It was probable/foreseeable that it   sucediese así   would happen that way La sola posibilidad de que aquella muchacha The mere possibility that that girl wouldn’t   no lo viese más lo desesperaba (ES, Arg.)   see him again filled him with despair Existe el riesgo de que quienes reciben el dinero There is the risk that those who receive the   no sean capaces de resarcirlo (JV, Mex.)   money won’t be able to pay it back Es inevitable que los autores . . . pierdan su It is inevitable that authors will lose   capacidad creadora (JM, Sp.)   their creative ability También puede ocurrir que Santiago prefiera It may also be the case that Santiago   tener a Graciela en una relación deteriorada   prefers being with (lit. ‘having’)   (MB, Ur., dialogue)   Graciela in a shaky relationship Está previsto que la tormenta . . . dure al The storm is predicted to last at least   menos 36 horas (El Periódico, Sp.)   36 hours

20.3  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced bythe conjunction que


(1)  Pueda (ser) que is a common Latin-American colloquial alternative for puede que/puede ser que ‘maybe’/‘it may be that’: pueda que algo te den y te mejores (MP, Arg., dialogue) ‘maybe they’ll give you something and you’ll get better’. The NGLE 24.11 prefers puede (ser) que. (2)  See 20.12.4 for the colloquial Latin-American use of the indicative in the subordinate clause in the above sentences. See also 20.12.4 for the colloquial Latin-American capaz que ‘it is possible that . . .’, not used in Spain.

20.3.6 Main clause contains a verb or phrase meaning ‘depends on’/‘relies on’ Main clauses + que that mean ‘to depend on . . .’ require the subjunctive Yo dependo de que me devuelvan I’m depending on them giving me the   el dinero a tiempo   money back in time De las mujeres depende que se coma It’s women who ensure that people eat   en el mundo (AM, Mex., dialogue)   in this world (lit. ‘that one eats in     this world depends on women’) Miguel contaba con que lo/le Miguel was counting on them calling  llamaran/llamasen aquella noche   him that night

20.3.7 Main clause means ‘want’, ‘permit’, ‘forbid’, ‘allow’, ‘order’, etc. + que This covers a vast range of sentences. If the basic meaning of the main clause is some phrase that means wanting, ordering, needing, causing, allowing, advising, persuading, encouraging, ensuring that . . . followed by que, the subjunctive is required in the subordinate clause: yo quiero que Simón lo haga ‘I want Simón to do it’, aconsejaban que el comité lo rechazara/rechazase ‘they advised the committee to reject it’. Examples: Organicé que todas nos vistiéramos como ellas I arranged it so that all of us women   (AM, Mex., dialogue)   dressed like them Me salvé de puro milagro de que los ladrones By a sheer miracle I avoided being   me mataran/matasen   killed by the thieves No puedes pretender que cambien las cosas You can’t expect things to change   (JA, Sp., dialogue) El primer paso, le dijo, era lograr que The first thing to do, she said to him,   ella se diera cuenta de su interés   was to get her to notice his interest   (GGM, Col., dialogue) Hay que evitar que ellos se enteren We have to avoid them finding out Es necesario/imprescindible que lo reciban It is necessary/essential that they   para mañana   receive it by tomorrow Asegúrate de que antes de verme haya Make sure that he’s been to Mass before he   ido a misa (EM, Mex., dialogue)   sees me The following are more examples of verbs that require the subjunctive (except in the circumstances described in note 1): causar que to cause conseguir que to succeed in contribuir a que to contribute to

cuidar de que to take care that dar lugar a que to give rise to decir que to tell someone to (see note 3)

250 The subjunctive desear que to want dificultar que to hinder esforzarse porque to make an effort to evitar/impedir que to avoid exigir que to require that hacer que to make/cause to hacer falta que to be necessary that insistir/empeñarse en que to insist on necesitar que to need to ocasionar que to cause/give rise to oponerse a que to be against pedir que to ask/request that (but see 20.3.9)

preferir que to prefer that pretender que to aim for/to aspire to procurar que to try to querer que to want rogar que to request that salvar de que to rescue/save from ser necesario que to be necessary that suplicar que to implore to tratar de que to try to ensure that vigilar que to make sure that luchar por que to struggle to

(1) Important: when the subjects in the main and the subordinate clause refer to the same person or thing, the infinitive is used: Teresa quiere hacerlo ‘Teresa wants to do it’, pretendía hablar chino ‘(s)he claimed (s)he spoke Chinese’. However, some verbs, especially verbs of permitting and prohibiting, can optionally be used with an infinitive even when the subjects are different. This possibility is discussed in 20.3.8c. (2)  There are many alternative ways of expressing the ideas associated with these verbs, e.g. by using adjectives, as in es necesario/deseable que . . . ‘it’s necessary/desirable that . . .’ or nouns, as in la petición/obligación de que . . . ‘the request/obligation that . . .’, la causa/el origen de que ‘the cause of . . .’. These also require the subjunctive when they are followed by the conjunction que, e.g. su i­ nsistenciaen que contestaran/contestasen en seguida ‘his/her insistence on them replying immediately’, soy partidario de que lo publiquen ‘I support them publishing it’, el anhelo de que Dios exista‘the longing for God to exist’, la necesidad de que las fuerzas armadas se profesionalizaran (JA, Mex.) ‘the need for the armed forces to be professionalized’. See 37.4.2 for the use of de que after most of thesenoun phrases. (3)  Some verbs may or may not require the subjunctive according to their meaning. They take the subjunctive only when an order or wish is implied: decidió que lo firmaran/firmasen ‘(s)he decided that they should sign it’, decidió que lo habían firmado ‘(s)he decided (i.e. ‘came to the conclusion’) that they had signed it’, dijo que se terminara/terminase ‘(s)he said (ordered) that it should be finished’, dijo que se había terminado ‘(s)he said (i.e. ‘announced’) that it was finished’, establecer que ‘to stipulate that’ (subjunctive)/‘to establish the truth that’ (indicative), pretender que ‘to try to’/‘to aim at’/‘wish that’ (subjunctive)/‘to claim that’ (indicative), escribir ‘to write that’ (indicative)/‘to write instructing that’ (subjunctive), insistir en que ‘to insist that’, as in insisto en que es la verdad (indicative) ‘I insist that it is the truth’, but insisto en que usted me diga la verdad ‘I insist on you telling me the truth’, se me ocurrió que era él ‘it occurred to me that it was him’, se me ocurrió que me pagaran/pagasen por ello ‘it occurred to me that they should pay me for it’ (wish). (4)  The remarks in the preceding note also apply to noun phrases that mean ‘want’, ‘allow’, etc. Compare la idea de que la tierra giraba alrededor del sol ‘the idea that the Earth revolved round the Sun’ (statement of fact: indicative) and la idea era que las chicas ayudasen/ayudaran a los chicos ‘the idea was that the girls should help the boys’ (intention or wish: subjunctive. Compare la idea era que las chicas ayudaban . . . ‘the idea was that the girls were helping . . .’; statement of fact). (5)  Statements of ‘hope’ are discussed at 20.3.23. (6)  For the subjunctive with pedir ‘to ask for’ see 20.3.9. (7)  Decir de + infinitive is not standard Spanish: *le dije de hacerlo should be le dije que lo hiciera/ hiciese ‘I told him/her/you to do it’, a fact that students of French should bear in mind (cf. je lui ai dit de le faire). However, decir de + infinitive with the meaning ‘to tell someone to . . .’ occurs in

20.3  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced bythe conjunction que


popular speech on both continents and is apparently spreading although it is not yet accepted in careful styles.

20.3.8 Use of the infinitive with phrases meaning ‘want’, ‘permit’, ‘forbid’, ‘oblige’, etc. Some of the verbs listed under 20.3.7, and certain other verbs not mentioned so far, may appear with the infinitive, thus avoiding the subjunctive (for pedir and similar verbs of requesting, see 20.3.9). This occurs: (a)  As we stated in 20.3.7 note 1, when the subject of the main clause and the subject of the subordinate clause refer to the same person or thing: quiero hacerlo ‘I want to do it’ but quiero que tú lo hagas ‘I want you to do it’. Sólo así evitarían aumentar impuestos (JA, Mex.) ‘only in this way would they avoid raising taxes’ (the subject of evitarían and aumentar is ‘they’) (b)  In impersonal constructions (i.e. when there is no identifiable subject): Hacía falta conseguir más gasolina It was necessary to get more petrol/US gas Se exigía presentar los documentos The documents were required to be  presented Eso evita pensar en lo que dejaste afuera That avoids one having to think about   (APR, Sp., dialogue)   what you left out (c)  With certain verbs, even when they are not impersonal and have different subjects. These are verbs that can be constructed with an indirect object, as in te ayudaré a conseguir/a que consigas lo que quieres ‘I’ll help you to get what you want’. The most common of these verbs are: acostumbrar a to accustom to animar a to encourage to autorizar a to authorize to ayudar a to help to condenar a to condemn to conducir a to lead to conseguir to manage to contribuir a to contribute to convidar a to invite to dejar to let/allow

desafiar a to challenge to enseñar a to teach to forzar a to force to hacer to make (i.e. cause to) impedir to prevent impulsar a to impel to incitar a to encourage to inducir a to persuade to instar a to urge to invitar a to invite to

llevar a to lead to mandar a to send to do mandar to order obligar a to oblige to ordenar to order permitir to allow/to permit prohibir to forbid retar a to challenge to tentar a to tempt to

Examples Le acostumbré/animé/autoricé/ayudé a I accustomed/encouraged/allowed/  hacerlo/a que lo hiciera/hiciese   helped him/her to do it Le condené/desafié/enseñé/forcé/impulsé/ I condemned/challenged/taught/   incité a hacerlo/a que lo hiciese/hiciera   forced/impelled/incited him/her to do it Le induje/invité/mandé/obligué/ I induced/invited/sent/obliged/   reté/tenté a hacerlo/a que lo hiciera/hiciese   challenged/tempted him/her to do it Le dejó/hizo hacerlo/que lo hiciera/hiciese (S)he let/made him/her do it Le impidió hacerlo/que lo hiciese/hiciera (S)he prevented him/her from doing it Le mandó/permitió/prohibió hacerlo/que lo (S)he ordered/allowed/prohibited  hiciera/hiciese  him/her from doing it  Cf. le mandé a hacerlo/a que lo hiciera/hiciese   I sent him/her to do it Déjanos a los hombres conversar en paz Leave us men to talk in peace   (MVLl, Pe., dialogue)

252 The subjunctive La dosis de vanidad que todos tenemos dentro The dose of vanity that we all have   hizo que me sintiera el hombre más   within us made me feel the   orgulloso de la Tierra (Che Guevara, in   proudest man on Earth   Granma, Cu.) Hagámosle creer que nos costó un gran esfuerzo Let’s make him believe it cost us a big effort   (ES, Mex., dialogue) Irala me convidó a acompañarla (JLB, Arg., Irala invited me to accompany her   dialogue; or a que la acompañara) Había ordenado retirarse a todas sus She had ordered all her ladies-in-waiting   sirvientas (AG, Sp., or . . . a todas   to withdraw   sus sirvientas que se retirasen/retiraran) (1)  Some verbs are in a transitional state. The older construction with the subjunctive is probably safer for foreigners, but the infinitive construction is often heard and is seen in written language: aconsejar to advise obstaculizar to hinder

pedir to ask (but see 20.3.9) proponer to propose

recomendar to recommend sugerir to suggest

Te propuse hacerlo/que lo hiciéramos/ I suggested to you that we should do it   hiciésemos Te confieso que te propuse fugarnos I admit that I suggested to you that we   (ABE, Pe., dialogue)   should elope Octavia, a quien una vez le sugerí pasar a Octavia, to whom I once suggested   la otra parte (ibid.)   that she should go over to the other side Incluso las radioemisoras aconsejaron con Even the radio stations strongly   insistencia a los capitalinos abstenerse de   advised residents of the capital to  salir (La Jornada, Mex.)   avoid going out (2)  Some of the verbs listed in this section can appear without a direct object in their main clause whereas English requires a dummy object like ‘one’ or ‘people’: un delgado vestido que impedía llevar nada bajo él/. . . que se llevara/llevase nada debajo de él ‘a thin dress that prevented one from wearing anything underneath it’, esto permite pensar que . . . ‘this allows one to think that’. (3)  When the object is non-living and the subject is human the subjunctive should be used. One can say la hiciste reír ‘you made her laugh’, but not *se puede hacer un ordenador solucionar ese pro­ blema for . . . hacer que un ordenador solucione ese problema ‘one can get a computer to solve that problem’ (impersonal se counts as a human subject); el experto técnico puede hacer que el acompañamiento se oiga menos ‘the technical expert can make the backing sound less loud’ but not *. . . puede hacer al acompañamiento oírse menos. (4)  When both subject and object are non-living it seems that either construction is possible, although the safe option is the subjunctive: el embalse permite que las aguas del río alcancen unos niveles adecuados (possibly . . . permite a las aguas alcanzar . . .) ‘the dam allows the water of the river to reach suitable levels’, . . . vientos flojos que harán bajar las temperaturas (Radio Nacional de España) ‘. . . light winds that will cause temperatures to fall’.

20.3.9 Use of the infinitive or subjunctive with pedir and verbs of similar meaning Pedir and other verbs of similar meaning, e.g. rogar ‘to request’, seem to be in a transitional state with respect to the use of the infinitive. They are used with an infinitive when the subjects are identical: pidió hablar con el director ‘(s)he asked to speak to the director’, pidió verme a las seis ‘(s)he asked to see me at six o’clock’.

20.3  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced bythe conjunction que


They normally require que and the subjunctive when the subjects are different, as do other verbs of requesting: pidió/suplicó/rogó que contestaran/contestasen cuanto antes ‘(s)he asked/implored/requested them to answer as soon as possible’, pidió al reportero que tuviera la gentileza de llamar a un colega mexicano (ES, Mex.) ‘she asked the reporter [Sp. periodista] if he would kindly call a Mexican colleague’. However, when the subject of the main verb is impersonal se, the infinitive is found in public notices of the type se ruega a los residentes no llevar las toallas a la piscina ‘residents are requested not to take the towels to the swimming pool’. In other cases, use of the infinitive when the subjects are different is not usually accepted in standard language in Spain, but it is found in Latin America: yo sé que pidió a los muchachos no abrir la boca (DT,Mex., dialogue) ‘I know he asked the boys not to open their mouths’, le pidió dejarlo solo con los varones (GGM, Col.) ‘he asked her to leave him alone with the men’ (normally le pidió que lo dejara/dejase solo); pidió a la sociedad denunciar a quienes hagan dichas peticiones (La Jornada, Mex.) ‘he asked society to report anyone making such requests [for money]’. Nevertheless, the infinitive construction is increasingly common in Spain in journalistic styles, especially headlines, e.g. Amnistía Internacional pide al gobierno español presionar (for que presione) a Chile (El País, Sp.) ‘Amnesty International asks Spanish government to pressure Chile’. Moreover, sentences like me pidió salir con él ‘he asked me to go out with him’ (for que saliera/saliese), nos ­pidieron ir con ellos al cine ‘they asked us to go with them to the cinema’ (for que fuéramos/fuésemos) are nowadays common in the speech of young Spaniards and seem to be spreading.

20.3.10 Main clauses that express emotional reactions or value ­judgements require the subjunctive in the subordinate clause In standard Spanish, the subjunctive is used in sentences of the pattern emotional reaction or value judgement + que + subordinate verb. ‘Emotional reaction’ and ‘value judgement’ cover a vast range of possibilities including regret, pleasure, displeasure, blaming, praise, criticism, surprise, understanding, toleration, agreement, excuse, rejection, justification, statements of sufficiency, insufficiency and importance, etc. Examples: Es natural que esté alterada It’s natural for her to be upset Que te protejan no está mal It’s not a bad thing that they protect you   (ABV, Sp., dialogue) No aguanto que me hablen de esa manera I can’t stand them talking to me like that Basta que te ofrezcan mucho dinero para que You only need to be offered a lot of   de repente no sepas ni para qué sirve   money to suddenly realize that you   don’t even know what use it is Estoy hasta el moño de que tengamos que ser I’m sick to death that it’s always us   siempre nosotras las que debamos recoger   women who have to clear the table   la mesa (CRG, Sp.) Andrés era el culpable de que me pasaran It was Andrés’s fault that all these   todas esas cosas (AM, Mex., dialogue)   things were happening to me Que la locomotora arrancara emocionó a Lorenzo was excited by the locomotive   Lorenzo (EP, Mex.)   starting up Yo sentía mucho que pensaras/pensases eso I was really sorry you thought that Están de acuerdo en que los militares They agree that the troops should hand in   entreguen sus armas   their weapons (1)  Important: one must differentiate between value judgements and statements of fact like es verdad que ‘it’s true that’, es obvio/evidente que ‘it’s obvious that’, es indiscutible que ‘it is beyond

254 The subjunctive dispute that’, afirma/pretende que . . . ‘(s)he claims that . . .’. The latter require the indicative when they are not negated, even though the distinction may not always be obvious to English speakers, especially when they notice that ser natural que ‘to be natural that’ takes the subjunctive whereas quejarse de que ‘to complain that’ usually takes the indicative. For negative statements like ‘it is not true that . . .’, which require the subjunctive, see 20.3.15. (2)  Some impersonal forms of verbs denoting value judgements or emotional reactions require the infinitive when their indirect object and the subject of the following verb are the same, as in ¿te importa hacer menos ruido? ‘do you mind making less noise’ or nos gusta comer mejillones ‘we like eating mussels’. Similar verbs are: afligir ‘to afflict’, agobiar ‘to oppress/overwhelm’, agradecer ‘to thank for’, alarmar ‘to alarm’, alegrar ‘to cheer up’, apetecer as in me apetece hacerlo ‘I feel like doing it’, bastar as in te basta con decir gracias ‘all you have to do is say thanks’, conmover ‘to move’ (emotionally), convenir as in me conviene hacerlo mañana ‘it suits me to do it tomorrow’, costar ‘to be hard work’, disgustar ‘to displease’, doler ‘to hurt’, fastidiar ‘to annoy’, interesar ‘to be of interest’/‘to be advantageous’, preocupar ‘to worry’, sorprender ‘to surprise’, etc. (3)  Most other verbs take the infinitive when the subjects refer to the same person or thing, as in (yo) odio hablar en público ‘I hate speaking in public’. Similar are: aceptar ‘to accept’, avenirse a ‘to agree to’, conformarse con ‘to agree with/accept’, consentir en ‘to consent to’, contentarse con ‘to be content to’, deplorar ‘to deplore, lamentar ‘to lament’, resignarse a ‘to be resigned to’, soportar/ aguantar ‘to put up with’, etc. (based on GDLE A fuller list of infinitive constructions appears at 22.2.2. (4)  Note the different meanings of sentir: siento que se me ha dormido el brazo ‘I feel that my arm has gone to sleep’ (physical sensation), siento que se te haya dormido el brazo ‘I’m sorry your arm’s gone to sleep’ (emotional reaction). (5)  Menos mal que ‘it’s a good thing that’, takes the indicative even though it is obviously a value judgement: menos mal que estaba presente la mujer de Maximino (RC, Sp., dialogue) ‘it’s a good thing Maximino’s wife was there’, menos mal que tú y yo estábamos acostumbradas a la niebla (SG, Mex., dialogue) ‘it’s a good thing the two of us were used to the fog’. Qué bien que and qué bueno que take the subjunctive in Spain: qué bien que haya venido Tito ‘it’s great/good news that Tito’s come’. In Latin America, they may appear with the indicative: qué bueno que está bien (EM., Mex., dialogue) ‘it’s great that he’s okay’. (6)  The form mejor . . . ‘it would be best that . . .’ is also followed by the indicative. This abbreviation of sería mejor que is very common in Latin America but it is also heard in colloquial language in Spain: mejor lo dejamos para más tarde ‘we’d better leave it until later’, ¿le cuento lo de los otros tres novios o mejor lo dejamos ahí? (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘should I tell you about the other three boyfriends or would it be better to leave it there?’ Compare sería mejor que lo dejáramos/dejásemos para más tarde ‘it would be better if we left it until later, (es) mejor que lo dejemos ‘best we leave it until later’. (7)  English speakers should beware of over-using si ‘if’ in sentences involving a value judgement: sería maravilloso que/si no hubiera/hubiese hambre en el mundo ‘it would be wonderful if there were no hunger in the world’. (8)  Important: the subjunctive is still required when the main clause is deleted: . . . pero que él diga eso . . . (some phrase like es increíble que . . . having been deleted from the sentence) ‘. . . that he should say that!’/‘. . . that he should have the nerve to say that!’

20.3  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced bythe conjunction que


20.3.11 Some unexpected exceptions to the rule stated in the ­previous section In spontaneous language in Latin America, and to a lesser extent in Spain, an emotional reaction or value judgement referring to a past, present or habitual event may take the indicative in the subordinate clause. Some speakers accept me alegra/molesta que estás aquí ‘I’m glad/annoyed you’re here’, other speakers require . . . estés aquí. This tendency to use the indicative is rather stronger with verbs followed by de que: see 20.3.12. The indicative is sometimes seen in writing in Latin America, especially in Argentina. Examples: El innegable genio de Joyce era puramente Joyce’s undeniable genius was purely   verbal; lástima que lo gastó en la novela   verbal; a pity that he wasted it on the novel   (JLB, Arg.) Es curioso que uno no puede estar sin It’s strange that one can’t manage (lit.   encariñarse con algo (MP, Arg., dialogue)   ‘can’t be’) without getting fond of something Me da lástima que terminó (ibid., dialogue) I’m sorry it’s ended Me parece raro que este hombre baja y dice It seems strange to me that this man   “Mire . . .” (Ven., quoted DeMello,   gets out and says ‘Look . . .’   1996, (2), 367) (1)  DeMello’s (1996, 2) study of recordings from Hispanic capital cities suggests that colloquial Spanish tends to distinguish between value judgements accompanied by emotional reactions (subjunctive) and value judgements that simply inform the speaker of a fact (indicative). But he notes that whereas the indicative was found in 57 per cent of Latin-American sentences involving value judgements, it occurred in only 36 per cent in Spain. Literary language strongly prefers the subjunctive after all value judgements + que.

20.3.12  Emotions and value judgements followed by de que We said at 20.3.10 that the subjunctive is used with expressions of emotion and value judgements + que. But when the verb is followed by de que the indicative mood is sometimes heard in relaxed speech when the verb is in the present or past. This tendency should probably not be imitated by foreign students: Me alegré de que (pensaban)/pensaran I was glad that they intended to do it   pensasen hacerlo Se indignaba de que sus suegros (S)he was outraged that his/her   (creían)/creyeran/creyesen en la pena   in-laws believed in the death penalty   de muerte Se asombra de que todo el mundo tiene (S)he’s surprised everyone’s got a ticket   un ticket (quoted DeMello, 1996 (2),   367. Madrid speech) (1)  As mentioned earlier, quejarse de que ‘to complain that . . .’ seems to foreign learners to be an emotional reaction, but it is followed by the indicative: se queja de que Berta la hace quedarse a dormir la siesta (MP, Arg., dialogue) ‘she complains about Berta making her stay in to sleep in the afternoon’, siempre se quejaba de que debía ir a misa y confesarse (EM, Mex., dialogue) ‘he was always complaining that he had to go to Mass and confess’.

256 The subjunctive

20.3.13 Lamentar que, protestar de que, sentir que and other verbs whose meaning changes when a following verb is in the subjunctive Lamentar que ‘to regret the fact that’ takes the subjunctive. Lamentarse de que ‘to lament/regret the fact that . . .’ takes the subjunctive when it expresses an emotional reaction and the indicative when it merely makes a statement: compare lamento que se haya tomado molestias (JM, Sp., dialogue) ‘I’m sorry that you’ve been bothered’ and renunció el 5 de enero de 1853, lamentándose de que entre nosotros los males sociales son orgánicos (Historia general de México, Mex.) ‘he resigned on 5January 1853, regretting (the fact that) that social evils are deep-rooted among us’. Protestar de que ‘to protest that’ takes either mood: protestaba de que el gobierno había/hubiera/hubiese subido los impuestos ‘(s)he was protesting at/lamenting the fact that the Government had raised taxes’. For sentir que see 20.3.10 note 4. (1)  Other verbs of variable meaning are: comprobar que denunciar que garantizar que soñar que ver que verificar que

with indicative to note that to report (e.g. to police) that to guarantee that to dream (while asleep) that to see/observe that to note/confirm that

with subjunctive to make sure that to denounce the fact that to ensure that to dream (i.e. yearn) that to see to it that to check/make sure that

See 20.3.22 for comprender que, entender que, explicar que, aceptar que

20.3.14  Lo + emotional reactions + que If a value judgement is expressed by a phrase involving the ‘neuter article’ lo, the rule for the use of the subjunctive is as follows: (a)  Lo lógico es que . . ./lo normal es que . . ./lo habitual/corriente es que . . . are followed by a subjunctive: Lo lógico/lo normal/lo habitual es que The logical thing/the normal thing is   no venga   that he doesn’t come En nuestro país, lo habitual es que en todo In our country, it’s usual that in any   asunto en que una persona pobre reclama   matter in which a poor person   de algún abuso . . . termine con problemas   complains about some abuse, they   mayores que aquellos por los cuales   end up with worse problems than   reclama (La Época, Ch.)   the ones they are complaining about (b)  Lo peor es que/lo mejor es que . . ./lo malo es que . . ./lo terrible es que . . ./lo molesto es que . . ., etc., can be problematic for English speakers. They are followed by the subjunctive when they clearly express an emotional reaction or value judgement, especially about some future event: Lo peor será/es que no venga nadie The worst thing will be if no one comes Lo malo sería que no terminaran/ The problem would be if they didn’t   terminasen el trabajo a tiempo   finish the work on time Lo más provocante de la ley es que The most provocative thing about the   provoque una reacción violenta del   law is that it may produce a violent   gobierno cubano (La Jornada, Mex.)   reaction from the Cuban government

20.3  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced bythe conjunction que


But they take the indicative when they refer to some present or past fact: Lo peor fue que no vino nadie The worst thing was that no one came Lo que me indigna es que la sociedad todavía What makes me mad is that society   condena los amores o amoríos entre una   still condemns romances or love   señora madura y un jovencito (CRG, Sp.)   affairs between a mature woman   and a young man Lo que más me sorprendió . . . fue que . . . se What surprised me most was that they   habían detenido y vuelto (JM, Sp.)   had stopped and turned round Lo malo es que soñé nuevamente con Emilio The worst is that I dreamt of Emilio   (MB, Ur., dialogue)   again Lo que me extraña es que no me di cuenta What puzzles me is that I didn’t realize   (GZ, Mex., dialogue) (1)  English speakers usually fail to see the difference between the indicative and the subjunctive in the examples listed above under (b). Compare lo malo es que tenemos el examen a las cuatro ‘the worst thing is that we’ve got the exam at four o’clock’ (statement of fact) and lo malo es que tengamos el examen a las cuatro (expresses an emotional reaction and means something like ‘unfortunately we’ve got the exam at four o’clock’, or ‘we’ve got the exam at four, worst luck’). (2)  Spanish-speakers who will not accept sentences like ?es curioso que dices eso ‘it’s odd that you should say that’ (for digas) will often accept lo curioso es que dices eso’.

20.3.15 When the main clause denies something the subordinate verb is in the subjunctive Examples: No creo que sea posible I don’t think it’s possible Mayta negó que hubiera intervenido en el Mayta denied he was involved in the   rapto (MVLl, Pe., dialogue); or hubiese   kidnapping Yo no he dicho que seas una histérica I didn’t say you were a hysteric   (CRG, Sp., dialogue) Esto no significa que haya que esperar un This doesn’t mean that one must   cambio radical de actitud (JC, Arg.)   expect a radical change of attitude No ocurre/sucede que haya eclipse todos It doesn’t happen that there’s an   los días   eclipse every day No se trata de que tengas que quedarte todos It’s not a question of your having to   los días hasta las nueve de la noche   stay till nine p.m. every day Pero eso no indica que se vaya a dar una crisis But that doesn’t show that there is going to  (Excélsior, Mex.)   be a crisis No es verdad que existan las hadas It isn’t true that fairies exist (1)  Statements containing imperatives like ‘don’t think that’, ‘don’t believe that’ usually take the indicative: no digas que es verdad ‘don’t say that it’s true’, no creas que esto es lo único que hacemos ‘don’t think that this is the only thing we do’ (AM, Mex., dialogue). (2)  The subjunctive is sometimes optional after negated verbs of knowing or believing, depending on the degree of uncertainty involved. If one knows for a fact that X is a thief, one says no confesaba que había robado el dinero ‘(s)he didn’t confess to stealing the money’. If X may be innocent one says no confesaba que hubiese/hubiera robado el dinero. For this reason, negated statements of observable truths, e.g. yo no sabía que la puerta estaba abierta ‘I didn’t know the door was open’

258 The subjunctive (it was) are more likely to take the indicative although estuviera/estuviese is also correct. Negated opinions, e.g. no creo que sea muy útil ‘I don’t think it’s very useful’, are almost certain to take the subjunctive. As the NGLE 25.7g points out, this distinction is not applied rigidly. It quotes si sujetas con la mano un vaso con agua fresca, al cabo de cierto tiempo no notas que el agua esté fresca ‘if you hold a glass of cool water in your hand, after a while you don’t notice that the water is cool’. In this case the water obviously is cool. This example is a reminder of how difficult it is to formulate binding rules about the Spanish subjunctive. (3)  The indicative is occasionally found after negar que and verbs of similar meaning, although this construction is unusual, especially in Spain: niego que hubo bronca (Proceso, Mex., usually ­hubiera, hubiese or haya habido bronca) ‘I deny there was a row’, pero negaban tozudamente que transportaban marihuana en esta ocasión (Granma, Cu.) ‘but they stubbornly denied that they were carrying marihuana on this occasion’, rechaza que Dios existe (from Navas Ruiz (1986), 69, usually exista) ‘(s)he denies that God exists’. The negative of negar amounts to an assertion of the truth so it often takes the indicative: nadie podía negar que él siempre cumplía con su palabra (GM, Sp.) ‘no one could deny that he always kept his word’. But the subjunctive is also common: no negaban que unas Cortes pudieran ser benéficas para la monarquía, siempre y cuando se limitaran a representar los intereses de los súbditos (Historia general de México, Mex.) ‘they did not deny that a Parliament could be beneficial for the monarchy provided it limited itself to representing the citizens’ interests’. (4)  No ser que and no que . . . are denials and are normally followed by the subjunctive: no es que yo diga que es mentira ‘it’s not that I’m saying that it’s a lie’, no es que se dijeran grandes cosas (JM, Sp.) ‘it isn’t that important (lit. ‘great’) things were said’, no era que no hubiese pobres por toda la ciudad (AM, Mex.) ‘it wasn’t that there were no poor people all over the city’. Exceptionally no ser que is followed by the indicative, in which case the denial is more confident and assertive: no era que tomaba posesión del mundo (M. de Unamuno, Sp.) ‘it wasn’t that he was taking possession of the world’. No ser que takes the indicative in questions: see next section. (5)  For the formula no sea que ‘lest’/‘so that not . . .’ see 20.4.3b. (6)  Poco . . . may also take the subjunctive in sentences like pocas personas creen que existan/existen los fantasmas ‘few people believe ghosts exist’, poca gente acepta que sea/es inocente ‘few people accept that (s)he’s innocent’. There is little difference between the subjunctive and the indicative in these cases.

20.3.16  Main clause consists of a negative question or order Negative questions and negative orders are not denials, so the indicative is used: ¿No es verdad que ha dicho eso? Isn’t it true that he said that? ¿No sientes que el corazón se te ensancha Don’t you feel your heart getting bigger   al ver esto? (JI, Mex., dialogue)   when you see this? (1)  For the Latin-American, especially Mexican, use of the subjunctive in positive questions, e.g. ¿crees que sea verdad?, Spain ¿crees que es verdad? see 20.12.1.

20.3.17  Main clause contains a statement of doubt Dudar que ‘to doubt that . . .’ takes the subjunctive, but after no dudar que ‘not to doubt that . . .’ the indicative is normally used when the meaning is ‘to be sure that . . .’:

20.3  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced bythe conjunction que


Dudo que sea verdad I doubt whether it’s true No dudo que sea verdad lo que dices I don’t doubt whether what you say is   true (tentative remark) No dudo que es verdad lo que dices I don’t doubt (i.e. ‘I’m convinced’) that   what you say is true No dudo que irá/vaya I don’t doubt he’ll go No hay duda que ella puede ser discutida There’s no doubt that it [the claim: la   (MVLl, Pe., Sp. no hay duda de que . . .)   afirmación] can be debated No dudé que el adjetivo “perfecta” era el único I didn’t doubt that the adjective ‘perfect’   que le convenía (JV, Mex., dialogue)   was the only one appropriate for her (1)  For dudar de que see 37.4.3 note 2.

20.3.18  Statements of fear + que Temer, tener miedo de que ‘to fear/be afraid of’ and other statements of similar meaning may take a subjunctive or an indicative tense, in the latter case most often a future form, or, if they refer to the past, a future in the past: Temo que le moleste/Temo que le va a I’m afraid it may bother him/her  molestar/molestará/le vaya a molestar Temíamos que le molestara/molestase/ We were afraid it would bother   molestaría/Temíamos que le iba/fuera  him/her   a molestar Yo tenía miedo de que te hubieras ido I was scared that you’d gone   (GCI, Cu., dialogue) . . . para no ver el mar por la escotilla porque . . . so as not to see the sea through the hatch   nos da miedo de que entre (EP, Mex.)   because we’re afraid it’ll come in The subjunctive is always used if the main verb is negated: no temía que me fuera/fuese a atacar ‘I wasn’t afraid he/she/it was going to attack me’. (1)  Temer que may also be found with the indicative when it refers to timeless or habitual actions: temo que la verdadera frontera la trae cada uno dentro (CF, Mex., dialogue) ‘I fear that each one of us carries the real frontier inside ourselves’, empezaba a temer que las imágenes de los dos mundos . . . pertenecían a dos caras de la misma moneda (JA, Sp.) ‘I was beginning to fear that the images of the two worlds . . . belonged to two sides of the same coin’. (2)  Temerse que usually means little more than ‘I’m sorry to say that . . .’ and it then takes the indicative: me temo que no he sido muy delicado ‘I fear I haven’t been very discreet’, de eso me temo que no puedo hablarte (LS, Ch., dialogue) ‘I’m afraid I can’t talk to you about that’. But the subjunctive is also possible, in which case it tends to mean ‘to fear that’ rather than ‘to suspect that’: mucho nos tememos que se trate de los primeros (Terra, Ur.) ‘we are very much afraid that the former are involved’.

20.3.19  Main clause means ‘the fact that . . .’ There are several common ways of translating ‘the fact that’: el hecho de que, el que, and que; the latter two items have various other meanings, for which see the Index. (a)  With all of these the subjunctive is generally used whenever the phrase meaning ‘the fact that. . .’ appears at the head of a sentence:

260 The subjunctive El hecho de que seas protegido de los Valdés me The fact that you’re someone protected by   tiene sin cuidado (EM, Mex., dialogue)   the Valdéses leaves me cold (El) que no digan nada no debería afectar The fact that they say nothing shouldn’t   tu decisión   affect your decision El que yo escriba un diario se debe también a The fact that I keep a diary is also  Virginia (JJA, Mex., dialogue.)   due to Virginia (b)  The indicative is often used when the main verb is a verb of knowing or perceiving (e.g. ente­ rarse de ‘to find out’, darse cuenta de ‘to realize’). When el hecho de que is preceded by a preposition it almost always takes the indicative: Se ha dado cuenta (del hecho) de que tiene que (S)he has realized (s)he has to work in   trabajar para vivir   order to live . . . parten del hecho de que muchos mayores . . . are based on the fact that many   tienen dificultades para usar correctamente   elderly persons find it difficult to   los aparatos (El Mundo, Sp.)   use the devices [computers] correctly No sé si influiría el hecho de que era medio I don’t know whether the fact she was half   danesa y que al parecer hizo allí parte de sus   Danish and apparently did part of her   estudios (LS, Sp., dialogue)   studies there would have any influence . . . como corrobora el hecho de que sus . . . as is confirmed by the fact that his main   principales discos seguían reeditándose   records/disks continued to be published   (JA, Mex.) (1)  El que ‘the fact that’ must be distinguished from el que ‘the person that’ (discussed at 40.1.4). Sometimes only context makes the sense clear: el que haya dicho eso no sabe lo que dice ‘the person who/whoever said that doesn’t know what (s)he’s talking about’, el que haya dicho eso no tiene importancia ‘the fact that (s)he said that has no importance’. (2)  English speakers tend to overdo el hecho de que for ‘the fact that’. El que . . . or que . . . alone are as common, if not more so. (3)  For de ahí que ‘hence the fact that . . .’ see 20.2.6.

20.3.20  Subjunctive after noun phrases + de que When a noun phrase replaces a verb phrase it is usually connected to a following subordinate clause by de que: compare esperamos que llueva ‘we hope it will rain’ and la esperanza de que llueva ‘the hope that it will rain’: see 37.4.2 for a more detailed discussion of the use of de que after nouns. (1)  For the tendency to drop the de in this construction, see 37.4.2 note 1.

20.3.21  Subjunctive after creer, parecer, suponer and sospechar + que We said at 20.3.3b that expressions of belief + que take the indicative – creo que Dios existe ‘I believe that God exists’, dice que sospechó que todo iba a terminar muy mal (MS, Mex.) ‘he says he suspected that everything was going to end really badly’– unless they are negated: no creo que Dios exista ‘I don’t believe God exists’, no me parece que haya nada malo en eso (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘it doesn’t seem to me that there’s anything bad about that’. However, the subjunctive occasionally appears after parecer que . . . and – very rarely – after sospechar que . . . ‘to suspect that . . .’ even when they are not negative. The meaning is then more hesitant or implies that what follows is not true; but the difference can barely be translated into English:

20.3  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced bythe conjunction que


Sospecho que es/sea mentira I suspect it’s a lie Como si la Historia fuera una especie de As if History were a sort of grasshopper   saltamontes; y parece que lo sea (AS, Sp.)   and it seems that it is ¿Por qué estás así? Parece que te estuvieras Why are you like that? It looks as   ahogando (ABE, Pe., dialogue)   though you were drowning . . . una de esas veces . . . en que parece que . . . one of those times when it seems that   hubiera explotado una bomba en alguna   a bomb had exploded somewhere far,   parte muy, muy remota (MS, Mex.)   far away In other words, parece que es así tends to mean ‘it seems that’ implying ‘and it is’, and parece que sea así suggests ‘it looks that way’ but it may not be. (1)  Use of the subjunctive to make a question ironic (i.e. when the speaker already knows the answer, as ¿crees realmente que esto ayude? ‘do you really think this helps?’) is much more common in Latin America than in Spain. See 20.12.1 in the Appendix to this chapter. (2)  No saber si . . . often takes the subjunctive from Colombia northwards, including Mexico. See 20.12.1 note 1. (3)  Parecer + subjunctive can sometimes mean ‘to seem OK’ in questions in Spain, but less often in Latin America: ¿te parece que vayamos a un restaurante chino? ‘how about we go/what if we go to a Chinese restaurant?’, more usually ¿qué te parece si vamos . . .?

20.3.22 Subjunctive after comprender/entender que, explicar que, aceptar que All of these verbs take the subjunctive when they are negated, e.g. no entiendo que ahora me pregunten sobre la ponencia (interview in El País, Sp.) ‘I don’t understand why people are asking me now about the written statement’. Comprender que, entender que and aceptar que usually take the subjunctive when they mean ‘to sympathize with’: Comprendo que mucha gente en la comunidad I understand that a lot of people in the US   afroestadounidense pudiera no entender eso   Afro-American community may not  (interview, La Jornada, Mex.)   understand that También aceptó que el Parlamento francés He also accepted that the French parliament   examine el pacto (El País, Sp.)   should examine the agreement Acepto que no quieras ir con nosotros I accept that you don’t want to go with us But comprendo/entiendo/acepto que la situación es así ‘I realize/accept that this is the situation’ take the indicative: comprendo que esta noticia carece totalmente de importancia (interview, La Jornada, Mex.) ‘I understand/accept that this news is totally lacking in importance’. (1)  Explicar usually takes the indicative when it really means ‘to state’ or ‘to say’: Javier explicó que había estado enfermo ‘Javier explained that he had been ill’. But the subjunctive is used when the verb means ‘gives the reason why’: esto explica que las mutaciones de la literatura estén estrechamente ligadas a las innovaciones técnicas ‘this explains that changes in literature are intimately linked to technical innovations’, eso explica que estemos de buen humor ‘that explains why we’re in a good mood’.

262 The subjunctive

20.3.23  Subjunctive after esperar que Esperar ‘to hope’, and the noun la esperanza de que . . . ‘the hope that’, may be followed by the subjunctive, by the future indicative, by the conditional tense or by the indicative of ir a. The subjunctive is by far the commonest form when the verb means ‘to hope’. Use of the indicative of these tenses suggests the meaning ‘to expect’: Espero que lo/le convenzas/convencerás I hope/expect you’ll convince him . . . con la esperanza de que ella haría lo . . . with the hope that she’d do the same  mismo (CF, Mex., dialogue) Por un momento la invadió la esperanza de For a moment she was filled with   que su marido no habitara ya el reino de   the hope that her husband no longer   los vivos (SP, Mex.)   inhabited the realm of the living Espero que no se le ocurra meterse por I hope he doesn’t get the idea of sailing   mitad del caño que hay entre las piedras   through the channel between the rocks   (APR, Sp., dialogue) Espero que me vas a pagar I’m expecting that you’re going to pay me (1)  Esperar a que and aguardar a que ‘to wait for . . .’ take the subjunctive: yo estaba esperando/aguardando a que lo hiciera/hiciese otra persona ‘I was waiting for someone else to do it’. (2)  Esperar must be used with an infinitive when the two subjects are the same: yo esperaba hacerlo ‘I was hoping to do it’, but yo esperaba que él lo hiciera/hiciese ‘I was hoping he’d do it’. (3)  No esperar(se) que takes the subjunctive: yo no (me) esperaba que me fuera a escribir ‘I didn’t expect (s)he was going to write to me’. The form esperarse emphasizes surprise.

20.4 The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced bysubordinators other than que 20.4.1  Introductory The subordinators discussed in Section 20.4 are words like ‘when’, ‘after’, ‘because’, ‘unless’, which introduce subordinate clauses. The general rule governing the use of the subjunctive after such subordinators is: if the event referred to in the subordinate clause has or had already occurred, the subordinate verb is in the indicative. If the event has or had not yet occurred, the verb is in the subjunctive. Example: Te lo di cuando llegaste Te lo daré cuando llegues Yo iba a dártelo cuando llegaras/llegases

I gave it to you when you arrived I’ll give it to you when you arrive I was going to give it to you when you arrived

Timeless or habitual actions also take the indicative: oscurece cuando se pone el sol ‘it gets dark when the sun sets’, mi nieta siempre me da un beso en cuanto llega ‘my granddaughter always gives me a kiss as soon as she arrives’. It follows from this that some subordinators, e.g. antes de que ‘before’, para que/a que ‘in order that’, a condición de que ‘on condition that’ always take the subjunctive because they must refer to something that has or had not yet happened at the time of the main clause. But in most cases use of the subjunctive depends on the rule given in the first paragraph of this section. As in English, the subordinate clause may precede or follow the main clause: después de que llegaron, empezamos a hablar/empezamos a hablar después de que llegaron ‘after they arrived we started talking’/‘we started talking after they arrived’.

20.4  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced by subordinators other than que


(1) Important: the rules given here do not refer to question words like cuándo, dónde, cómo, quién, cuál, which are not subordinating conjunctions and are best thought of as separate words. They are followed by the indicative: ¿sabes cuándo llega? ‘do you know when (s)he’s coming?’, ¿te acordarás de dónde lo has dejado? ‘will you remember where you’ve left it?’, dudo que sepa cómo se dice ‘I doubt (s)he knows how to say it’. Compare also ¿y cuándo te casas? ‘and when are you getting married?’ and ¿y cuando te cases qué va a ser de tus hijos? ‘and when you get married what’s going to happen to your children?’

20.4.2  Use of the infinitive after subordinators The infinitive is used after certain subordinators when both verbs have the same subject. Compare entré sin verla ‘I came in without seeing her’ (same subject: ‘I’) and entré sin que ella me viera/viese ‘I came in without her seeing me’ (different subjects). This occurs with the following subordinators: (a)  Those that include the word de, e.g. con tal de que ‘provided that’, antes de que, ‘before’, después de que ‘after’, bajo la condición de que ‘on condition that’, con el objeto de que/a fin de que ‘with the intention of’, a cambio de que ‘in return for’, en vez de que ‘instead of’, a pesar de que ‘despite’, en caso de que ‘in the event of’, el hecho de que ‘the fact that’, etc. The que is dropped before the infinitive: Lo haré antes/después de salir I’ll do it before/after I go out Muchos lo consultaban antes de tomar Many people consulted him before   decisiones políticas (JA, Mex.)   taking political decisions Lo escribió con el objeto de alabar a sus (S)he wrote it with the intention of   compañeros de trabajo   praising his/her work colleagues El hecho de saber cuatro lenguas me ayuda The fact of knowing four languages helps me (b)  Sin que ‘without’, para que/a que ‘in order to’, nada más ‘as soon as’, hasta que ‘until’ The que is dropped before an infinitive. Compare: entré sin hacer ruido ‘I came in without making any noise’, entré sin que me viera/viese ‘I came in without him/her seeing me’; fue al dentista a que le sacara/sacase una muela ‘(s)he went to the dentist for him to take one of her/his teeth out’ and fui al supermercado a comprar pan ‘I went to the supermarket to buy bread’. In the case of the other subordinators, e.g. cuando, mientras ‘while’, en cuanto/una vez que ‘as soon as’, a subordinate finite verb cannot be replaced by an infinitive: te lo diré cuando te vea ‘I’ll tell you when I see you’, never *te lo diré cuando verte, which is not Spanish. (1)  Some of these subordinators that allow the infinitive construction are found with an infinitive in very informal speech even when the subjects are not the same, as in ?cómprame unas postales para mandárselas (yo) a mi madre for cómprame unas postales para que yo se las mande a mi madre ‘buy me some postcards for me to send to my mother’, te voy a ver antes de irte ¿no? (for . . . antes de que te vayas) ‘I’m going to see you before you go, aren’t I?’ This kind of construction is quite common in spontaneous informal speech but it is avoided in careful language. (2) For porque when it means ‘in order to’ (it usually means ‘because’) see 20.4.3 note 1.

20.4.3 Subjunctive with subordinators of purpose: ‘in order to’, ‘so that’, etc. (a)  Phrases meaning ‘in order to’ such as a fin de que, para que/porque, con el objeto de que, con el propósito de que, con la intención de que and a que (which also has other meanings, e.g. a que sí ‘I bet it’s true’), are always followed by a subjunctive because they obviously point to an event that has

264 The subjunctive or had not yet happened at the time of the main clause. When the subjects of the verbs are identical the infinitive is used, e.g. lo hice para fastidiarte ‘I did it to annoy you’; see 20.4.2: Afuera, para que la solidaridad se sienta, Outside, so that people should sense   hay que reunir un millar de personas   the (level of) solidarity, we need to   (MB, Ur., dialogue. Sp. Fuera . . .)   assemble about a thousand people La enorme fuerza que cobraba la derecha The enormous strength the political Right   fue determinante para que el presidente   was acquiring was what decided the   eligiera sucesor (JA, Mex.)   President to choose a successor He escrito una circular a fin de que se I’ve written a circular so that everyone   enteren todos   knows about it Debemos esforzarnos porque/para que los We should make an effort so that the others   demás tengan menos trabajo   have less work Estoy un tanto apurado y como I’m a bit worried and rather impatient   impaciente porque pase el trago   for this unpleasantness to pass. (b) A number of phrases express negative intention or avoidance, i.e. ‘so that not’, and they always take the subjunctive. They are awkward to translate now that our word ‘lest’ is ­confinedtoformal styles. These phrases do not allow replacement of the subjunctive by an infinitive: Trabaja más, no sea que te despidan Work harder so they don’t fire you Me subí al coche en tres minutos no se I got into the car within three minutes lest   me fuera a arrepentir de la invitación   he regretted/so that he wouldn’t regret   (AM, Mex., dialogue)   the invitation No corras tanto, no vaya a darte un infarto Don’t rush (lit. ‘run’) so much – you don’t     want to give yourself a heart attack No vaya a ser que los secuestradores se We don’t want the kidnappers to   den cuenta (EM, Mex., dialogue)   find out Devuélveles el dinero, no ocurra que nos Give them back the money. We don’t   demanden   want them to sue us (1)  Porque in the meaning ‘in order that’ is less common than para que, but is quite often found after certain verbs, especially esforzarse porque/para que + subjunctive ‘to make an effort in order to. . .’. For the difference between por and para when both mean ‘in order to’, see 38.17.16.

20.4.4 Subjunctive with subordinators meaning ‘because’, ‘seeing that’, etc. These do not allow replacement of the finite verb by an infinitive. (a)  The following are followed by the indicative when they mean ‘since’ or ‘because’: pues because (see 37.5.3) ya que since/   seeing that comoquiera que since puesto que since

debido a que due to the fact that en vista de que seeing that

(b)  Como, when it means ‘because’ or ‘since’ (i.e. ‘in view of the fact that . . .’) is also usually followed by the indicative; it is discussed at 37.5.2. When followed by the subjunctive como may mean ‘if’ and is discussed at 29.8.2. For the use of como in sentences like hazlo como quieras ‘do it as/how you like’, see 20.5.2. Cómo means ‘how’ in direct and indirect questions, and is best thought of as a different word: see 28.7.

20.4  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced by subordinators other than que


Invítame ya que/puesto que tienes tanto dinero/ Since you have so much money   Como tienes tanto dinero me puedes invitar   you can pay for me   (in this meaning como must appear at   the head of the clause; see 37.5.2) Comoquiera que los perros no leen Since dogs can’t read, the notice must have   debía de estar ahí el letrero para   been there for people to read   que lo leyera la gente (comoquiera   for ‘since’ is literary) (c)  Porque is usually followed by an indicative, but it requires the subjunctive when it means ‘just because’/‘only because’, and after no porque ‘not because’. Sometimes it can be preceded by solo/sólo. No lo hago porque tú lo digas I’m not doing it just because you say so Que nadie venga a nosotros porque piense Let no one come to us (just) because   que va a obtener enchufes   they think that they’ll get special favours . . . no tanto porque fuera imprescindible . . . not so much because his approval   su aval (JA, Mex.)   was absolutely necessary Me perdí y llegué tarde. No porque yo me I lost my way and was late. Not   oriente mal, sino porque iba un poco   because I have a poor sense of direction   sonada (CMG, Sp., dialogue)   but because I was a bit stoned, But: No lo hago porque tú lo dices I’m not doing it because you say I should No lo hago solo/sólo porque tú lo dices I’m doing it, but not simply because   you’re telling me to No salgo contigo solo/sólo porque tienes The fact that you have a Ferrari isn’t   un Ferrari   the only reason I go out with you Spanish can thus avoid an important ambiguity that affects English sentences like ‘he didn’t react because he was tired’. See 20.11. (d)  The subjunctive is used after bien porque . . . o, ya . . . ya . . . /ya porque . . . o, fuera porque . . . fuera porque meaning ‘whether . . . or’: Bien/Ya porque tuviera algo que hacer o Whether he had something to do or   porque estuviera cansado, el caso es que   whether he was tired, the fact is that   no estuvo muy amable con nosotros   he wasn’t very kind to us . . . ya fuese para apuntalar al Gobierno, ya . . . whether in order to support the   para atacarlo (Abc Color, Par.)   government, or to attack it Fuera porque no sea costumbre de los Whether because it wasn’t usual in the   arrabales estadounidenses, fuera porque a   suburbs in the USA, or because her   nadie le interesara demasiado su vida . . .   life didn’t interest anyone too much . . .   (SP, Sp. . . . bien porque . . . o porque could   have been used) Me gusta, ya sea idea de Pedro, ya sea de otro I like it, whether it’s Pedro’s idea   or someone else’s (e)  Dado que usually takes the indicative: . . . dado que los resultados del peritaje ponían en riesgo la veracidad del caso (AH, Mex.) ‘. . . since the results of the experts’ report threatened [to undermine] the truth of the case’. But it may imply ‘assuming it is the case that . . .’ and take the subjunctive: dado que sea verdad lo que dices, cuenta con mi aprobación y ayuda (DRAE) ‘assuming what you say is true, count on my approval and help’. (1) For porque in the meaning of ‘in order that . . .’ see 20.4.3.

266 The subjunctive

20.4.5 Subjunctive with subordinators of result, aim and manner, e.g.‘as a result’ These are words meaning ‘so’/‘as a result’ in sentences like ‘it was snowing, so we stayed at home’. They do not allow replacement of the finite verb by an infinitive. (a)  When they indicate the result of an action the following take the indicative: así que so (= ‘as a result’) conque so (esp. in questions, e.g.   ¿conque lo has hecho tú? ‘so it was   you that did it?’)

de manera que in such a way that/so de suerte que in such a way that/so de forma/modo que in such a way

Tú tienes la culpa, de modo que/así que/ You’re to blame, so you can’t complain   conque no te puedes quejar El río Niágara sigue fluyendo debajo de la capa The Niagara river is still flowing   de hielo, de modo que las cataratas no están   underneath the ice layer, so the falls   totalmente congeladas (Excélsior, Mex.)   are not completely frozen If they indicate aim or purpose they take the subjunctive: iban disfrazados de manera que nadie los/ les reconociera/reconociese ‘they were in disguise so (i.e. ‘with the intention that . . .’) no one would recognize them’; . . . de manera que nadie los/les reconoció implies result, i.e. that no one did recognize them. This avoids another ambiguity of English – see 20.11. Further examples implying aim or intention: Compórtate de modo/manera que no sospechen Behave so as to avoid them suspecting —Está sobreactuando —me dijo a mí en el ‘She’s overacting,’ he said to me in   pasillo, de forma que nuestra madre no le   the corridor so that our mother wouldn’t   pudiera oír (SP, Sp.)   hear him . . . procurando colocar la cámara de tal . . . trying to position the camera so that my   manera que mi rostro . . . no estropeara   face wouldn’t spoil the photo   la foto (ES, Mex., dialogue) (b)  Como when it means ‘as’/‘however’ requires the subjunctive when it refers to an action which is or was still in the future: Hazlo como quieras Te dije que podías venir como quisieras/   quisieses

Do it however you like I told you that you could come any way you  liked

When it refers to a present or past action, the indicative is used: lo hacen como siempre lo han hecho sus madres ‘they do it as their mothers have always done’, lo hice como quise ‘I did it the way I wanted to’. For como + subjunctive meaning ‘if’ see 29.8.2; for como meaning ‘as’ (i.e. ‘seeing that’) see 37.5.2. (c)  Cual si (literary: see 28.3.1 note 3) and como si ‘as if’ always take a past subjunctive, but never a present subjunctive. For como si = ‘just as if’/‘it’s just the same as when’, see note 2: Me miró como si no me viera/viese (S)he looked at me as if (s)he couldn’t/   didn’t see me Las trató con gran familiaridad, como si las He treated them very familiarly, as   viera todos los días (CF, Mex.)   though he saw them every day

20.4  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced by subordinators other than que


(1)  Comme si takes the indicative in French: comme si elle avait quinze ans = como si tuviera/tuviese quince años ‘as if she was fifteen years old’. (2)  Hacer que ‘to pretend that’, hacer como si/que ‘to act as if’ and ser como si ‘to be as if . . .’ take the indicative when they mean the same as como cuando . . . ‘. . . the same as when . . .’: Marta hace que no escucha ‘Marta pretends not to be listening’, hicieron como si no se enteraban (SP, Sp.) ‘they acted as if they didn’t realize’, hizo como que no entendía ‘(s)he pretended not to understand’, es como si/ como cuando no puedes respirar y te asustas ‘it’s the same as when you can’t breathe and you get scared’, el niño pasa de todo, como si le llevo a una manifestación en favor del divorcio o contra los bocadillos de calamares (MVM, Sp., dialogue) ‘my little boy doesn’t worry about a thing: it’s the same to him whether I take him on a demonstration in support of divorce or against squid sandwiches’. (3)  Como si . . . is found colloquially in Spain with the indicative to mean ‘even if’: —No iré hasta las ocho—. Como si no vienes, a mí me da igual (Spain, colloquial) ‘“I won’t come until eight o’clock.” “Even if you don’t come it’s the same to me’”. (4)  Tan . . . como que . . . ‘such . . . as that . . .’ takes the subjunctive: dos héroes como nosotros no pueden retroceder por cosas tan sin importancia como que le coma a uno un gigante (children’s story book, Sp.) ‘two heroes like us can’t turn back because of such unimportant things as being eaten by a giant’ (lit. ‘as that a giant eats one’). (5)  Como que, which can also mean ‘as if’, takes the indicative: últimamente lo he venido notando preocupado, como que desea comunicarme algo (JJA, Mex., dialogue) ‘lately I’ve been noticing that he’s preoccupied, as if he wants to tell me something’.

20.4.6  Subjunctive with words meaning ‘in case’, ‘supposing that’ En caso de que and en el caso de que call for the subjunctive: En caso de que no esté, llámame If (s)he’s not in call me Esperaremos dos minutos para darle tiempo We’ll wait two minutes for you to make   de ponerse cómodo, en el caso de que se   yourself comfortable if you happen   esté usted duchando (ABE, Pe., dialogue)   to be taking a shower No les voy a soltar esa información, es sólo I’m not going to let them have that   en caso de que me pregunten   information; it’s only in case they ask me   (GZ, Mex., dialogue) But por si usually, but not invariably, takes the indicative, although por si acaso may take either mood, the subjunctive making the possibility less likely. Por si is not followed by the present subjunctive: Llévate el paraguas por si (acaso) Take the umbrella in case it rains  llueve/lloviera/lloviese but (not *por si  llueva) Siempre estaba haciendo favores a la gente She was always doing people   por si acaso a alguien se le ocurría   favours in case someone thought  devolvérselos (SP, Sp.)   of repaying them Está apuntando hacia la otra acera, por si He’s aiming at the other pavement/   hay un ataque por retaguardia   sidewalk in case there’s an attack   (JI, Mex., dialogue)   from the rear Por si fuera poco . . . (set phrase) As if that wasn’t enough . . . Conviene que vayas enterado por si alguien It would be best if you were informed   te pidiera una aclaración (EM, Sp.)   (lit ‘went informed’) in case someone     asks you for an explanation

268 The subjunctive (1)  Suponiendo que when it means ‘supposing that’ requires the subjunctive: suponiendo que él venga, ¿lo/le vas a dejar entrar? ‘supposing he comes, are you going to let him in?’ But when it means ‘to assume’ it takes the indicative: traicionaste a quien se suponía que era tu socio y tu mejor amigo (GZ, Mex., dialogue) ‘you betrayed the person who was supposed to be your partner and best friend’.

20.4.7  Subjunctive with subordinators of time These include such words and phrases as the following: a medida que/según/ después (de) que after mientras (que) as  conforme as en cuanto/nada más/apenas/tan pronto   long as, while (see 20.4.9) antes (de) que before   como/una vez que/nomás que (Lat. Am.) siempre que every time cuando when   as soon as desde que since hasta que until After subordinators of time, the subordinate verb is in the subjunctive when its action is or was still in the future, as in the following examples: Llegamos antes de que empezara/empezase a We arrived before it started snowing  nevar (for antes de que see note 2) No sea muy dura con su empleada, después Don’t be very hard on your maid after   que se haya tranquilizado (SV, Ch., dialogue   you’ve calmed down   In Spain usually después de que . . .) Tú conoces a mi prima. Cuando venga le diré You know my cousin. When she comes   que te lo cuente (AA, Cu., dialogue)   I’ll tell her to tell you about it Íbamos a cenar cuando llegaran/llegasen los We were going to have supper when the   demás   rest arrived (i.e. they hadn’t arrived yet) Reparte los folletos conforme los diputados Hand out the pamphlets as the members   vayan entrando   of parliament come in tan pronto como acabe la huelga . . . as soon as the strike is over . . . En cuanto pueda me compraré un reloj As soon as I can, I’ll buy a watch   (MB, Ur., dialogue) Nomás que oscurezca te vas por la carretera As soon as it gets dark you go down   (JI, Mex., dialogue; Sp. en cuanto oscurezca.   the road  For nomás see 27.6) Apenas pueda, te llamo (JA, Arg. Apenas As soon as I can, I’ll ring you   is discussed more fully at 27.5.7. See also   note 2) Hasta que no llegue a ser ministro no se He won’t be satisfied until he becomes   quedará contento (see 27.2.4 for the use   a Minister  of no here) Siempre que la vea se lo recordaré I’ll remind her whenever/if I see her When the event is in the past or present, or is a habitual event, the indicative is used Me saludan cuando llegan (habitual) tan pronto como acabó la huelga . . . Me doy cuenta, a medida que Rosita pasa mis   notas a máquina, de que he reunido cerca de   doscientas páginas (CF, Mex.) Hasta que no llegó a ser ministro no se   quedó contento (see 27.2.4 for no here)

They greet me when they arrive as soon as the strike was over . . . I realize, as Rosita types out my notes,   that I’ve assembled nearly 200 pages He wasn’t satisfied until he became a   Minister

20.4  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced by subordinators other than que


Ya es de noche cuando . . . oye los débiles golpes It is already night when he hears the feeble   en la puerta (DT, Mex. Historic present)   tapping on the door (1)  Important: students of French and Italian must not use the future tense after these subordinators: compare je lui donnerai son livre quand il arrivera, gli darò il suo libro quando arriverà and le daré su libro cuando llegue ‘I’ll give him his book when he arrives’. (2)  Of these subordinators of time, only antes de, después de, hasta and nada más (and in Latin America nomás) can take an infinitive construction when the subjects of both verbs are identical: me fui después de comer ‘I went after I had eaten’, hazlo antes de acostarte ‘do it before you go to bed’, trabajó hasta no poder más ‘(s)he worked until (s)he could work no longer’, la llamaré nada más llegar a casa ‘I’ll call her as soon as I get home’. In the case of nada más, the subjects do notneed tobe identical: salí nada más entrar ella ‘I left as soon as she came in’. Apenas is heardwith theinfinitive in very informal speech when the subjects are identical, although this is stigmatized: ?lo hice apenas llegar a casa (good Spanish lo hice apenas llegué a casa) ‘I did it as soon as I got home’. The rest allow only a finite verb, indicative or subjunctive according to the rule given. (3)  As we have said, antes de que is always followed by the subjunctive because it must refer to a still future event. Both antes de que and antes que are correct, the former being more common in Spain. Antes que also means ‘rather than’ and must not be confused with antes (de) que ‘before’: cualquier cosa antes que casarse ‘anything rather than get married’. (4)  Después (de) que ‘after’ and similar phrases, e.g. a los pocos días de que, ‘a few days after’, luego de que ‘after’, take the subjunctive when they refer to an action still in the future. If they refer to a past action, they should logically take the indicative – and in Latin America they frequently do. But in Spain the -ra and -se forms are common after these words and after desde que: see 18.3.3. Después que for después de que is quite common in Latin America and is spreading in Spain. Desde que ‘from the moment that . . .’ rarely refers to the future, but cf. la vigilaré desde que llegue hasta que se vaya ‘I’ll keep an eye on her from the moment she arrives until she leaves’. (5)  Nada más is followed by an indicative when it means solo: solo/sólo/nada más voy un momento a comprar un periódico ‘I’m just going out for a moment to buy a newspaper’.

20.4.8  Subjunctive with subordinators of condition and exception These are words meaning ‘provided that’, ‘unless’, ‘except’, etc. They all take the subjunctive (for si and como when they mean ‘if’ see 29.8.1 and 2) Those that include the word de, e.g. con tal de. . ., are used with the infinitive when the subject of both verbs is identical, as explained at 20.4.2, e.g. me llevaré el libro a condición de no tener que leerlo ‘I’ll take the book on condition that I don’t have to read it’. (a)  Condition: the following mean ‘provided that’, ‘on condition that’: con tal (de) que siempre que (also   ‘whenever’. See 20.4.7) siempre y cuando (emphatic)

a condición de que con la condición de que bajo (la) condición de que mientras as long as. See 20.4.9

a cambio de que   (also ‘in return for’)

El Gobierno está dispuesto a negociar siempre The Government is ready to  que/siempre y cuando/con tal (de)   negotiate provided they are  que/a condición de que sean razonables   reasonable

270 The subjunctive . . . con tal de que mi hijo se eduque en otro . . . provided that my child is educated   ambiente soy capaz de todo   in a different environment I’m   (ES, Mex., dialogue)   capable of anything . . . siempre que su muerte se debiera a causas . . . provided his death was due to  naturales (LS, Ch., dialogue)   natural causes Firmaremos a cambio de que no se haga público We’ll sign in return for it not being   hasta la semana que viene   made public until next week (b)  Exception (occasionally followed by the indicative in the cases discussed in note 1): a no ser que unless a menos que unless como no (sea que) unless salvo que unless/save that fuera de que (less common)   (in suggestions: see 29.8.2b) excepto que unless/except that   unless como no fuera que unless en vez de que instead of Me casaré contigo a no ser que/salvo I’ll marry you unless you’ve changed  que/como no sea que/a menos que hayas   your mind   cambiado de idea No se debe usar esta puerta, excepto que sea en This door shouldn’t be used unless   caso de emergencia   it’s an emergency Íbamos de vacaciones en agosto salvo/a no We took our holidays/vacation in   ser que/como no fuera que yo   August unless I was very busy  estuviera/estuviese muy ocupado No tenemos nada que decir, como no sea We’ve nothing to say except that we’re   que sentimos mucho lo de mi ahijada   very sorry about what happened to my   (MS, Mex., dialogue)   goddaughter ¿En vez de que te quedes solo aquí, por qué no Instead of staying alone here, why don’t   vamos todos al cine?   we all go to the cinema? (1)  Excepto/salvo que and con la salvedad de que are followed by the indicative when they mean ‘except for the fact that’: en realidad no sé gran cosa de él, excepto que parece que le gusta poner su nombre a cosas (interview, La Jornada, Mex.) ‘in fact I don’t know much about him except that he likes putting his name to things’, es difícil hacer previsiones sobre esta cumbre, salvo que no van a reducir sus cuotas (El Economista, Mex.) ‘it’s difficult to make forecasts about this summit meeting, except that they aren’t going to lower their quotas’.

20.4.9  Mientras (que) Mientras can mean ‘while’, ‘whereas’ or ‘provided that’. (a)  In the first meaning it often simply refers to something happening at the same time, in which case the indicative is used: siempre tengo la televisión apagada mientras comemos ‘I always keep the television switched off while we’re eating’, sonreía mientras atravesaba el estacionamiento frente a la Facultad de Ciencias (EP, Mex.) ‘he was smiling while he crossed the parking lot opposite the Science Faculty’. But if it refers to the future the subjunctive is possible, although the indicative is more usual: mañana puedes hacer la comida mientras yo arreglo/arregle la casa ‘tomorrow you can do the cooking while I tidy the house’. (b)  If a contrast is implied – i.e. if it means ‘on the other hand’ or ‘whereas’ – mientras que is preferred: mi padre nunca se movería de la capital mientras que mi madre conocería en Tetuán a un militar sosegado y viudo (MDu, Sp.) ‘my father was never to move from the capital whereas my mother was to meet a quiet military widower in Tetuán’.

20.4  The subjunctive in subordinate clauses introduced by subordinators other than que


(c)  If it means ‘provided that’ or ‘as long as’ it requires the subjunctive: mientras el Gobierno no tome sus medidas, no habrá paz para la gente honrada (EM, dialogue, Sp.) ‘as long as the government doesn’t take measures, there will be no peace for honest folk’, mientras no hagan ruido me da igual quiénes sean mis vecinos ‘as long as they don’t make a noise, I don’t care who my neighbours are’, mientras nosotros no nos hiciéramos visibles no teníamos problema contigo (MS, Mex., dialogue) ‘as long as we didn’t make ourselves visible we had no problem with you’.

20.4.10 Subjunctive with subordinators of concession (words ­meaning ‘although’) There are several ways of saying ‘although’ of which aunque is the most common: aunque así

siquiera aun cuando

si bien y eso que

Words meaning ‘despite the fact that’ have a similar meaning: a pesar de que

pese a que (literary)

a despecho de que (literary)

With the exception of si bien que and y eso que, which are always used with the indicative (see 37.6.2), these require the subjunctive if they point to an event which is or was still in the future: compare aunque llueve ‘although it is raining’ and aunque llueva ‘even if it rains’; also aunque llovía ‘although it was raining’ and aunque lloviera/lloviese ‘even if it rained’ (it hadn’t started raining yet). Así always requires the subjunctive when it means ‘although’. Those that ­containthewordde may be constructed with an infinitive in the circumstances described at20.4.2: Es un valiente, no hablará así/aunque He’s a brave man, he won’t talk even   lo/le amenacen   if they threaten him No lo confesó aunque le ofrecieron dinero (S)he didn’t confess although they offered   him/her money No lo confesaría aunque lo/le mataran/ (S)he wouldn’t confess it even if they   matasen   killed him/her . . . tienen que cumplir, así caminen bajo la They have to fulfil their mission, even if they  lluvia (La Jornada, Mex.)   walk in the rain Vendieron la finca, a pesar de que el They sold the estate, despite the fact   abuelo se oponía   that grandfather opposed it ¿A pesar de que tus padres se opongan? Even though your parents will/may   (ABV, Sp., dialogue)   be against it? A pesar de que no posee el aura de Despite him not having the aura of mystery   misterio de los primeros años (JV, Mex.)   of the early years (1)  The subjunctive may be optionally used with aunque to refer to past or habitual events. In this case it strengthens the concession, making it an equivalent to ‘even though’: jamás culparé a Octavia, aunque lo haya intentado alguna vez (ABE, Pe., dialogue) ‘I’ll never blame Octavia, even though I may have tried to sometimes’, él era un importante hombre de negocios, aunque su padre lo hubiera menospreciado a veces (GZ, Mex., dialogue) ‘he was an important businessman, even though his father had despised him at times’. (2) When siquiera is used to mean ‘although’ (literary style) it requires the subjunctive: . . . dos fuentes independientes . . . a las que se aludirá, siquiera sea vagamente (Libro de estilo de El País, Sp.)‘. . .two independent sources, which will be mentioned, even if in vague terms’.

272 The subjunctive

20.5 Translating ‘whether . . . or’, ‘however’, ‘whatever’, ‘whoever’, ‘whichever’ and ‘the more . . . the more . . .’ The phrases discussed in this section are often translated by the forma reduplicativa, i.e. constructions in which a subjunctive verb is repeated, as in pase lo que pase ‘whatever happens’, no hay salida para ti, hagas lo que hagas, vayas a donde vayas (CF, Mex., dialogue) ‘there’s no way out for you, whatever you do, wherever you go’.

20.5.1  ‘Whether . . . or’ The forma reduplicativa is used, as in: Escuchaba las conversaciones con sus I listened to the conversations   amigas, repararan o no repararan en mí   with her female friends, whether   (SP, Sp.)   they noticed me or not The second verb is sometimes replaced by hacer or, in negative phrases, omitted altogether: . . . trabaje en una red, o lo haga desde un PC . . . whether you work on a network or   en casa . . .    from a PC at home . . . Estuviese/Estuviera o no enfermo, lo cierto Whether he was ill/sick or not, the   es que no vino al trabajo   fact is he didn’t come to work México está cambiando, les guste o no Mexico is changing whether you/they like   (El Economista, Mex.)   it or not

20.5.2  ‘However much/little . . .’, etc. With por muy + adjective or noun the subjunctive is obligatory: ¿cómo consentía que ese hombre horrible, por muy amigo suyo que hubiera sido hacía unos años, pasara tanto tiempo con mi madre? (SP, Sp.) ‘how could he let that awful man – despite having been such a friend of his some years before– spend so much time with my mother?’, por poco convincente que hubiera sido su explicación ‘however unconvincing his/her explanation may have been . . .’. Por mucho que/por más que + verb, por mucho + noun + verb, por (muy) + adjective + verb. Use of the subjunctive follows the usual rule: if the event referred to is or was a reality, the indicative may be used: por mucho que/por más que se lo dijo, no lo hizo ‘(s)he didn’t do it however much (s)he asked him/her’; but the subjunctive is required if the event is or was still in the future, and also for purposes of emphasis (see note 1): Por mucho calor que haga, no abrirán la However hot it gets/is, they won’t open  ventana   the window A una por más liberada que esté siempre le However liberated one is one will always   gustará que el hombre le abra la puerta   like the man to open the car door for one   del coche (ES, Mex., dialogue) Por más que llueva no se le van a resucitar However much it rains, his dead   los novillos muertos (MP, Arg., dialogue)   steers won’t come back to life Por mucho que corriera y que se escondiera, However much she ran and hid, he’d   él acabaría por encontrarla (RM, Sp.)   eventually find her (1)  Using the subjunctive for events or states that are realities strengthens the force of the concession: por mucho que/más que se lo dijera/dijese, no lo hacía ‘however often (s)he told him/her, (s)he didn’t do it’, por más brillante que fuera en la física teórica, no tenía adiestramiento astronómico (EP, Mex.) ‘however brilliant he was in theoretical physics he had no training in astronomy’.

20.5  Translating ‘whether . . . or’, ‘however’, ‘whatever’, ‘whoever’, ‘whichever’ and ‘the more . . .’ 273

(2)  To translate ‘however it is’, ‘however it was’, etc., either the forma reduplicativa is used or como quiera que + subjunctive, e.g. . . . pero como quiera que sea, yo he comprado . . . una media docena por lo menos (J JA, Mex., dialogue) ‘but however it is/but all the same, I’ve bought at least a half a dozen’, or . . . sea como sea . . .

20.5.3  ‘The more . . . the more’, ‘the less . . . the less’ Cuanto/a/os/as más . . . más and cuanto/a/os/as menos . . . menos are the standard formulas. The general rule is applied: if the event is a reality (i.e. has occurred or is occurring) the indicative is used, otherwise the subjunctive is required: Cuanto más comas más querrás Cuanto más comías, más querías Yo sabía que cuanto más bebiera/bebiese   más me emborracharía Cuanta más sal pongas, peor sabrá Cuanto menos digas menos se inquietarán

The more you eat the more you’ll want The more you ate the more you wanted I knew that the more I drank the   drunker I’d get The more salt you put in the worse it’ll taste The less you say the less they’ll worry

For the use of mientras instead of cuanto in this construction, and, in parts of Latin America, of entre, instead of cuanto, see 6.11.

20.5.4  ‘Whatever’ The forma reduplicativa is normally used: digan lo que digan/hagan lo que hagan whatever they say/whatever they do Den lo que den, siempre vamos al Whatever’s on (lit. ‘whatever they give’)   Metropolitan (EP, Mex., dialogue. Sp.   we always go to the Metropolitan cinema   pongan lo que pongan . . .) Hablara de lo que hablara, se estaba Whatever she was talking about,   dirigiendo a mí (SP, Sp.)   she was addressing herself to me Cómpralo sea como sea ‘Buy it whatever it looks like’ or ‘buy it   whatever the cost’ Dijo que lo compraría fuera/fuese como (S)he said she’d buy it whatever happened/   fuera/fuese   anyway Comoquiera que sea and comoquiera que fuera/fuese could be used in the last two examples, but they are less usual. Como quiera is an alternative spelling, not recommended by the Academy (NGLE25.13q). Lo que + the subjunctive may also be used in some contexts: Aquella novela o lo que quiera que fuese era That novel, or whatever it was, was   muy difícilmente publicable (JM, Sp.)   very unlikely to be publishable . . . por temor, por pereza o por lo que sea . . . . . . out of fear, laziness, or whatever   (SP, Sp.) Le pago lo que quiera, pero vaya de una vez I’ll pay you whatever you want, but get   (MS, Mex., dialogue)   going now! (1) The English ‘whatever’ may mean ‘whichever’, in which case it is best translated by an appropriate tense of sea cual sea . . .. This forma reduplicativa is preferred in written and spoken language to the rather stilted cualquiera que and comoquiera que: las camelias, cualquiera que/sea cual

274 The subjunctive sea su color, son bonitas ‘camellias are pretty whatever their colour’ (for a general discussion of cualquiera, see 10.8), fuera/fuese cual fuera/fuese la razón . . . ‘whatever the reason was . . .’. (2)  When ‘whatever’ means ‘everything’ it will usually be translated by todo lo que or cuanto: trae todo lo que puedas ‘bring whatever/everything you can’, aprenderé todo lo que/cuanto pueda ‘I’ll learn whatever/everything I can’.

20.5.5  ‘Whichever’ When this word means ‘which’, ‘whichever one’ or ‘the one that’ it is usually translated by que or el que + subjunctive, e.g. Escoge la maceta que más te guste Choose whichever flowerpot you like most —¿Qué sombrero me llevo? —El que ‘Which hat should I take?’ ‘Whichever (one)   usted quiera   you want’ For details see the subjunctive in relative clauses, 39.15.

20.5.6  ‘Whenever’ This is translated by cuando with the subjunctive when the event referred to is or was still in the future, and by the indicative in all other cases: Vienen cuando quieren (habitual) They come whenever they like Vendrán cuando quieran They’ll come whenever they like Dijeron que vendrían cuando They said they’d come when they  quisieran/quisiesen  wanted to La banca mexicana debe facilitar una Mexican banking should provide   relación con sus clientes “donde   its customers with a [digital] link   quiera y cuando quiera y como quiera.”   “where, when they want it and however  (El Economista, Mex.)   they want it” (1)  Siempre que, as well as meaning ‘provided that’ (see 20.4.8), may also mean ‘whenever’; cada vez que can mean the same thing: yo la saludaba siempre que/cada vez que la veía ‘I said hello to her whenever I saw her’. When used with the subjunctive siempre que usually means ‘provided that’. The issue may be clarified by using an alternative for ‘whenever’, e.g. no se te olvide saludarla cada vez que la veas (future reference) ‘don’t forget to say hello to her whenever you see her’. (2)  Cuando quiera que is old-fashioned for cuando, but it is used as an occasional literary variant for siempre que: . . . cuando quiera que en la vida española se ponen tensos los ánimos (R. Pérez de Ayala, Sp., quoted by Seco) ‘whenever passions are stirred in Spanish life’.

20.5.7  ‘Anyone who . . .’, ‘whoever . . .’ For cualquiera que, quienquiera que, see 39.15.2.

20.5.8  ‘Wherever’ Dondequiera que or the forma reduplicativa. They take the subjunctive if they refer to an as yet un­­ identified place:

20.8  Tense agreement with the subjunctive in all s­ ubordinate clauses


Dondequiera que vaya/Vaya donde vaya me Wherever I go I’ll meet him   lo encontraré Dondequiera que fuese/Fuese donde fuese, me Wherever I went I met him   lo encontraba (or fuera . . .) Estés donde estés, busca un teléfono público Wherever you are, look for a public phone   (LS, Ch., dialogue) Sean de donde sean, lo que importa es Wherever they’re from, the important thing is   saber dónde tienen a tu padre   to find where they’re keeping your father   (EM, Mex. dialogue) (1) The que is sometimes omitted, e.g. dondequiera se encuentren ‘wherever they’re found’, but Seco (1998), 170, disapproves. (2)  Adondequiera can be used when the meaning is ‘wherever . . . to’: adondequiera que vayan ‘wherever they go (to)’ or vayan a donde vayan. But dondequiera que vayan is also common.

20.6  Subjunctive in subordinate relative clauses E.g. busco una persona que sepa sueco ‘I’m looking for a person who knows Swedish’ compared with conozco a una persona que sabe sueco ‘I know a person who knows Swedish’. This important topic is discussed at 39.15.

20.7  Use of the subjunctive to make imperatives All matters connected with the imperative are treated in Chapter 21. As a reminder, it should be noted that (a)  The subjunctive is used to form all negative imperatives: no me hables ‘don’t talk to me’, no se vayan ustedes ‘don’t go away’. (b) The subjunctive is used for all imperatives with the pronouns usted and ustedes: guarden ­(ustedes) silencio ‘keep quiet’, váyase (usted) ‘go away’. (c)  The subjunctive is used to form first-person plural and all third-person imperatives, e.g. sentémonos ‘let’s sit down’, que entren ‘let them come in’/‘tell them to come in’.

20.8 Tense agreement with the subjunctive in all ­subordinate clauses Despite the claims of some traditional grammars, there are no rigid rules of tense agreement between main and subordinate clauses, but the following are the most usual combinations: (a)  Main clause in present indicative tense • Present subjunctive: me gusta que hable ‘I like her/him to talk’, lo más probable es que la deje ir (EM, Mex., dialogue) ‘the most likely thing is that he’ll let her go’. • Perfect subjunctive: me encanta que hayas venido ‘I’m really glad you’ve come’. • Imperfect subjunctive (see note 1): es muy extraño que no me vieras llegar (MS, Mex., dialogue) ‘it’s very strange that you didn’t see me arrive’, no creo que fuera/fuese detective ‘I don’t believe (s)he was a detective’.

276 The subjunctive (b)  Main clause in future tense • Present subjunctive: nos contentaremos con que terminen para finales del mes ‘we’ll be content with them finishing by the end of the month’, ¡jamás soportaré que mi sobrina se case con un tipo que va por el mundo vestido de profesor en vacaciones! (ABE, Pe., dialogue) ‘I’ll never tolerate my niece marrying a guy who goes around dressed like a teacher on vacation!’ or, possibly ‘. . . a guy who goes around on vacation dressed like a teacher!’ (c)  Main clause in conditional or conditional perfect tense • Imperfect subjunctive: nos contentaríamos con que terminaran/terminasen para finales del mes ‘we’d be content with them finishing by the end of the month’, yo habría preferido que se pintara/pintase de negro ‘I’d have preferred it to be painted black’. (d)  Main clause in perfect tense (see note 2) • Present subjunctive: le he dicho que se siente (AG, Sp., dialogue; European Spanish perfect of recency) ‘I told you to sit down’. • Perfect subjunctive: ha sido un milagro que no te hayan reconocido ‘it was a miracle they didn’t recognize you’. • Imperfect subjunctive: ha sido un milagro que no te reconocieran/reconociesen ‘it was a miracle that they didn’t recognize you’. (e)  Main clause in imperfect, preterite or pluperfect tense (see notes 3 and 4) • Imperfect subjunctive: la idea era que cobrarais/cobraseis los viernes ‘The idea was that you’d get paid on Fridays’, me dio miedo que me quitaran al niño (CF, Mex., dialogue) ‘I felt afraid they might take my child away from me’, yo te había pedido que me prestaras/prestases cien dólares ‘I’d asked you to lend me 100 dollars’. • Pluperfect subjunctive: me sorprendía que hubiera/hubiese protestado ‘I was surprised that (s)he had protested’. • Present subjunctive. This is common, especially in the media, when the main clause refers to the past and mentions an action that has still not taken place: el secretario de Naciones Unidas pidió ayer a Estados Unidos que no actúe unilateralmente contra Irak (El País, Sp.) ‘The UN secretary asked the US yesterday not to act unilaterally against Iraq’. It is also common in popular Latin-American speech where standard language requires the past subjunctive. See note4. (1)  The combination present + imperfect or perfect subjunctive occurs when a comment is being made about a past event. There seems to be little difference between the perfect and imperfect subjunctive in this case, and occasionally the present subjunctive can also be used: algunos niegan que Cristóbal Colón fuera/fuese/haya sido/sea el primer descubridor de América ‘some deny that Christopher Columbus was the first discoverer of America’. (2)  The perfect (ha dicho, ha ordenado, etc.) is strictly speaking classified as a present tense for the purposes of agreement, but the imperfect subjunctive is occasionally used with it when the event in the subordinate clause is also in the past. Compare ha dado órdenes de que nos rindamos ‘(s)he’s given orders for us to surrender’ and el clima que se está creando ha llevado a que se hablara/ hablase de intervención del Ejército (or hable) ‘the climate that is being created has led to talk of Army intervention’. (3)  The combination past indicative + present subjunctive is optionally possible when the subordinate clause refers to a timeless or perpetual event: Dios decretó que las serpientes no tengan/tuvieran/ tuviesen patas ‘God decreed that snakes should have no legs’ (las piernas is used for human legs). (4)  Use of the present when both verbs refer to the past is common in popular Latin-American speech and informal writing but is unacceptable to many Peninsular speakers: el inspector aduanero

20.10  The subjunctive and ‘uncertainty’


le pidió a la muchacha que le muestre su casaca (La Prensa, Pe., Spain mostrara/mostrase. In Spain la casaca = ‘dress coat’) ‘the Customs inspector asked the girl to show him her coat’, Maduro pidió el martes pasado a la Asamblea Nacional que apruebe el decreto (El Economista, Mex.) ‘Maduro asked the National Assembly last Tuesday to approve the decree’. This construction seems to be spreading to the media in Spain and it is not unknown there in spontaneous speech. (5) After como si ‘as if’, igual que si/lo mismo que si ‘the same as if’, the verb is always in the imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive: le hablaré como si yo no supiese/supiera hablar bien el castellano ‘I’ll talk to him as if I didn’t know how to speak Spanish well’, como si no me hubiera visto ‘as if (s)he hadn’t seen me’. See also 20.4.5c for como si.

20.9  The future subjunctive The future subjunctive (see 16.7.7 for its forms) is nowadays obsolete in everyday Spanish, except in a few literary set phrases such as sea lo que fuere (more usually sea lo que sea) ‘whatever it may be’, venga lo que viniere (usually venga lo que venga) ‘come what may’; the present or imperfect subjunctive is used instead. But it is still used in legal jargon and official documents, e.g. in the Penal Code and other collections of laws: APUESTA: Contrato bilateral en el que se ‘BET’: A bilateral contract in which it   acuerda que el que acertare un pronóstico   is agreed that a person who makes  o tuviere razón en una disputa recibirá   an accurate forecast or wins an   del perdedor lo pactado (legal dictionary)   argument shall receive an agreed     sum from the loser It occasionally appears in flowery language to indicate a very remote possibility: . . . lo cual ofrece amplísimas ventajas en la . . . which offers very wide advantages   extracción del motor o en reparaciones,   when removing the engine or in   caso de que las hubiere (advert., Sp.,   repair work – should such a thing   hubiera/hubiese more normal).   ever arise It is also found in solemn language in Latin-American newspapers: Sólo la aplicación de un plan de estrictas Only the application of a plan of strict   medidas, aun cuando estas/éstas resultaren   measures, even if these turn out to   antipopulares, permitirá salir de la actual   be unpopular, would allow us to get  situación (La Nación, Arg.)   out of the present situation . . . facilitándoles, si fuere necesario, intérpretes . . . providing them, if necessary, with   u otros medios eficaces (La Jornada, Mex.)   interpreters or other effective means

APPENDIX TO CHAPTER 20 This Appendix contains some miscellaneous points connected with the subjunctive which may interest advanced students.

20.10  The subjunctive and ‘uncertainty’ Many grammars claim that the subjunctive has a meaning associated with ‘uncertainty’ or ‘doubt’. This is true in some cases – es posible que llueva ‘it’s possible that it will rain’ – but there are many cases where the subjunctive expresses a certainty:

278 The subjunctive Me acostaré cuando se ponga el sol I’ll go to bed when the sun sets No es verdad que la tierra sea plana It’s not true that the Earth is flat Es una tragedia que exista la pobreza It’s a tragedy that poverty exists Me alegro mucho de que hayas aprobado I’m really glad you passed the exam   el examen El hecho de que exista la luna explica The fact that the Moon exists   muchas cosas . . .   explains many things Perdieron aunque jugaran/jugasen bien They lost even though they played well Moreover, the subjunctive is not always obligatory after some common words that express uncertainty, e.g. a lo mejor llueve esta noche ‘maybe it’ll rain tonight’, quizás Manuel se ha quedado en casa ‘perhaps Manuel has stayed at home’. A subtler argument is put forward by some linguists, e.g. that the subjunctive is an irrealis mood, i.e. it does not refer directly to what is necessarily real. This does indeed explain sentences like me acostaré cuando se ponga el sol ‘I’ll go to bed when the sun sets’ which, although a certainty, is still in the future and not yet ‘real’, or quiero comprar un coche que tenga cuatro puertas ‘I want to buy a car that has four doors’ where the four-door car is still unidentified and is therefore ‘unreal’. But it does not explain sentences like es una pena que Marte apenas tenga atmósfera ‘it’s a pity that Mars barely has an atmosphere’ or siento mucho que te hayas roto el tobillo ‘I’m really sorry you’ve broken your ankle’, both of which refer to something real. Probably the best approach is to abandon the idea that the subjunctive has a definable ‘meaning’ or that there is a single underlying rule that generates it. Instead one should simply learn when to use it without enquiring too closely why. The NGLE 25.1j agrees with the objection that the subjunctive does not necessarily express ‘uncertainty’.

20.11  In praise of the Spanish subjunctive English has almost completely lost the subjunctive. Apart from set phrases like ‘if I were you’ (for ‘if I was you’) it appears only in formal literary styles in sentences like ‘if this be true’, ‘it is important that this problem receive (for ‘should receive’ or ‘receives’) immediate attention’, or ‘lest he try to escape again’ for ‘lest he tries to escape again’. The price that English pays for this loss is a series of ambiguities which Spanish makes clear and English speakers are usually unaware of. The following examples reflect British English; American English seems to make slightly more use of subjunctive forms: • ‘We insist that the children are treated well’. Are they treated well or not? If they are, then indicative in Spanish: insistimos en que se trata bien a los niños. If they should be, then ­subjunctive: se trate bien a . . .). American English seems to require ‘should be . . .’ for the second meaning. • ‘We decided to eat when they arrived’. Does this mean ‘when they arrived we decided to eat’ (indicative: decidimos cenar cuando llegaron) or ‘we decided to delay eating until they arrived’ (subjunctive: . . . cuando llegaran/llegasen)? • ‘I’m going to move to a country where it never snows’. Does this mean ‘I’ve discovereda country where it never snows and I’m going there’ (indicative: me voy a mudar a unpaísdonde nunca nieva) or are you still looking for one (subjunctive: . . . donde nunca nieve)?

20.12  Regional variations in the use of the subjunctive


• ‘He didn’t leave because he was angry’. If this means ‘he left, but not because he was angry’ then subjunctive: no se fue porque estuviese/estuviera enfadado. If it means ‘he stayed because he was angry’ then indicative: no se fue porque estaba enfadado. • ‘When we get the signal we return to base’. Is this ‘whenever we receive the signal we return to base’, standing orders, so indicative: cuando recibimos la señal volvemos a la base), or are we waiting for the signal . . . cuando recibamos la señal volveremos a la base? • ‘He was wearing a mask so no one identified him’. Does this mean ‘his intention or hope was that no one would identify him’ . . . llevaba una máscara de manera que nadie lo/le ­identificara/identificase or did no one identify him – . . . de manera que nadie lo/le identificó? North Americans apparently insist on ‘would’ for the intentional form, so they should know when to use the Spanish subjunctive. • ‘I didn’t know she was so intelligent’. Does this mean ‘she is intelligent, but I didn’t know it’? – no sabía que era tan inteligente – or ‘I didn’t know she was so intelligent and I’m not saying she is’ – no sabía que fuera/fuese tan inteligente?

20.12  Regional variations in the use of the subjunctive There is generally little variation in the use of the subjunctive in educated usage throughout the Spanish-speaking world. However, students may come across some of the following variations.

20.12.1  Use of the subjunctive in questions. In Latin America, and especially in Mexico, but not in Spain, the subjunctive may be used in direct and indirect questions, as in ¿tú crees que uno sepa cuándo se va a morir? (JRG, Mex., dialogue, Spain . . . uno sabe) ‘do you believe that one knows when one’s going to die?’, pero con los retrasos de los aviones y luego con este clima no sé a qué horas llegue (ES, Mex., dialogue; Sp. . . . a qué hora llega/llegará) ‘but with the planes being late and then this weather I don’t know what time she’ll arrive’, ¿usted cree que esto ayude? (MP, Arg. Dialogue, Sp. . . . esto ayuda) ‘do you really think that this helps?’ (1) No saber si . . . often takes the subjunctive in Mexico, Central America, Chile and the Andes: no sé si quieras venir ‘I don’t know whether you want to come’, . . . si quieres venir in Spain and the River Plate region. The same is true of no saber cuándo: no sé cuándo sea el mejor momento ‘I don’tknow when the best moment will be’, Sp. cuándo será . . . (NGLE 25.5p), . . . porque quién sabe cuándo vayas a regresar (ES, Mex., dialogue; Sp. vas a regresar) ‘because who knows when you’ll be back’.

20.12.2  Use of the conditional for the subjunctive In some regions, especially in northern Spain and in the Southern Cone, the Andes and Colombia, there is a tendency in popular speech to use the conditional instead of the imperfect subjunctive, e.g. ?si tendría dinero, lo compraría for si tuviera/tuviese dinero lo compraría ‘If I had money, I’d buy it’. NGLE 23.15d and 23.15g says that this is avoided in educated speech and in writing.

20.12.3  Use of indicative after subordinators of time There is a tendency in parts of Latin America to use the indicative after subordinators of timethatpoint to the future, e.g. ?se lo diré cuando vienen or cuando vendrán for se lo diré cuando vengan ‘I’ll tell her/him/you/them when they come’. This is avoided in careful speech and in writing.

280 The subjunctive

20.12.4 Use of the future indicative or conditional after phrases ­meaning ‘it is possible that . . .’ Popular Latin-American speech sometimes uses indicative tenses after phrases like es/era posible que ‘it is/was possible that’: la posibilidad de que no podrán (Spain puedan) moler fábricas que no cuenten con caña suficiente (Granma, Cu.) ‘. . . the possibility that mills that do not have enough sugar-cane will not be able to do any crushing’. This is avoided in careful styles. Such sentences require the subjunctive in standard Spanish, and use of the subjunctive is the norm everywhere: see 20.3.5. Use of capaz que for ‘possibly’, often, but not always, with the indicative, is typical of familiar Latin-American speech: capaz que la conoció cuando fue a Los Ángeles (EM, Mex., dialogue) ‘maybe he met her when he went to Los Angeles’, capaz está enferma ‘maybe she’s ill’. Capaz means only ‘capable’ in standard European Spanish.

20.12.5  The subjunctive in Argentina In Argentina, where voseo is normal (see 12.3.1), careful speakers use the standard Spanish subjunctive forms with vos because the expected vos forms with a stressed final vowel are a shade too popular for many people. The NGLE 4.7e notes that this prejudice applies more to positive forms than to negative forms like no digás, no hagás which are more widespread. In the following examples, the speakers address one another as vos: tengo miedo que no vengas . . . que aflojes (JA, Arg. dialogue; Spain . . . miedo de que) ‘I’m scared you won’t come . . . that you’ll go off the idea’, no digas nada pero papá fue a matar un pollo . . . (MP, Arg., dialogue) ‘don’t say anything, but father went to kill a chicken . . .’. But the following example is of very familiar language: me extraña que defendás la hipocresía (Mafalda cartoon, Arg., ‘standard’ style . . . que defiendas) ‘I’m surprised at you defending hypocrisy’. In Uruguay the popular vos forms of the subjunctive are more stigmatized.

20.13  Subjunctive ‘contamination’ Students will encounter examples of the subjunctive that seem to contradict the explanations given in this chapter. One common case is what could be called ‘subjunctive contamination’, i.e. the tendency to use the subjunctive unnecessarily later in a sentence that starts with a subjunctive. An example is no es posible suponer que esta/ésta sea la razón por la que el acusado se llevara/ llevase el coche ‘it is not possible to conclude that this is the reason why the accused took the car away’. Llevó would have been correct, but the combined effect of posible and suponer que . . ., which here invite the subjunctive, has ‘contaminated’ the phrase la razón por la que . . . which does not in fact require a subjunctive.

21 The imperative The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • • • • • •

Forms of tú, vos, vosotros/as and usted(es) imperatives (Section 21.2) The imperative of estar (Section 21.2.6) How to form negative imperatives (no lo hagas, etc.) (Section 21.3) The position of object pronouns with the imperative (Section 21.4) First-person plural imperative (vámonos ‘let’s go’, sentémonos ‘let’s sit down’, etc.) (Section 21.5) Third-person imperatives (que entre ‘let her/him come in’, que hablen ‘let them speak’, etc.) (Section 21.6) Impersonal imperatives (véase, escríbase, etc.) (Section 21.8) Use of the infinitive as an imperative (empujar, tirar, etc.) (Section 21.9) Present tense used as an imperative (Section 21.10) Making imperatives mellower (Section 21.11)

21.1 General remarks The imperative is used to give orders or to make requests. As in English, a simple imperative, e.g. hazlo ‘do it’, can sound abrupt, so intonation and attitude are important. In Spanish, a friendly manner counts for much more than constant repetition of por favor or haga el favor ‘please’, which, like gracias, English-speakers constantly over-use. In Spain, por favor is strictly speaking required when asking a favour, and since baristas, waiters or salespersons are simply doing their job, por favor is not really necessary. However, por favor is nowadays heard more often than before, especially in Mexico, where everyday language is very polite. Other points to watch are: (a) all negative imperatives (e.g. ‘don’t do’, ‘don’t say’) are formed with the subjunctive: vete ‘go away’, no te vayas ‘don’t go away’ – for which reason knowledge of the subjunctive forms of verbs is essential; (b) for Latin Americans there is no vosotros/vosotras imperative: usted and ustedes + the present subjunctive are used for both strangers and friends, and even for children and animals. (1) Important: English allows passive imperatives, normally only in the negative: ‘don’t be fooled by him’, ‘don’t get stung by a bee’. A different solution must be found in Spanish: no te dejes engañar por lo que dice ‘don’t be deceived by what he says’, que no te pique una abeja ‘don’t let a bee sting you’/‘don’t get stung . . .’, no dejes que te hagan cantar a la fuerza ‘don’t be bullied into singing’, no dejes que te mangoneen/no te dejes mangonear ‘don’t let yourself be pushed around’.

21.2 Positive forms of the imperative For negative imperatives (‘don’t do’, ‘don’t say’, etc.) see 21.3.

21.2.1 Pronouns and the imperative As in English, addition of a subject pronoun to an imperative can make an order emphatic and brusque:

282 The imperative ¡Tú bájate de ahí!/Usted bájese ¡Vosotros callaos! (Lat. Am. ustedes cállense)

You get down from there! You shut up!

However, usted may be added after an imperative to reinforce the politeness: venga usted a las ocho ‘come at eight o’clock’. (1)  Spoken Mexican Spanish often makes imperatives emphatic by adding -le: aváncenle ‘move on!’, pásenle ‘come in!’, ándale ‘wow!’/‘get moving!’, ¡córrele! ‘hurry!’.

21.2.2 The tú imperative The familiar singular imperative (tú form) is, with eight exceptions, formed by removing the -s of the second-person singular of the present indicative: llamas > llama, lees > lee. The exceptions are: decir to say: di hacer to do/make: haz ir to go: ve (vete = ‘go away’)

poner to put: pon salir to leave/go out: sal ser to be: sé

tener to have: ten venir to come: ven

Anda, sé bueno y márchate Come on, be good and go away   (JMa, Sp., dialogue) Ven a tomar el café cuando quieras Come and have coffee whenever you want Ten cuidado Be careful —Vete —le dijo—. Vete, antes de que ‘Go away,’ she told him. ‘Go away before   te cobre el dinero que me debes   I collect the money you owe me’   (AM, Mex., dialogue) Haz clic en/Pincha en el icono Click on the icon (1) The tú imperative of haber is theoretically he, but it is never used. As Seco (1998, 243), points out, the nowadays rather stilted literary expression he aquí, ‘here is . . .’/‘what follows is . . .’ (French voici . . .) is not the imperative of haber: he aquí un resultado cuidadosamente escondido (El País, Ur.) ‘this is a carefully concealed result’. (2) The tú imperatives of compound verbs formed from poner and tener have an accent: propón ‘suggest’, detén ‘arrest’. The accent is not required when one pronoun is suffixed: proponlo ‘suggest it’, detenlos ‘arrest them’; but propónselo ‘suggest it to her/him/them’.

21.2.3 The vos imperative The imperative form corresponding to vos (Argentina, Uruguay and also most of Central America, see 12.3.1) can usually be found by removing the -r from the infinitive; the final vowel is therefore stressed: tener > tené, contar > contá, decir > decí, defender > defendé. Pronominal verbs take the pronoun te, so the imperative of lavarse is lavate (the standard form is lávate). Further examples, all from Argentina (where vos for tú is normal in all styles); the tú form is included in brackets. Stressed vowels are shown in bold: Decile que pase (dile que pase) Suscribite y defendé tus derechos  (suscríbete, defiende) Vení cuando puedas (ven cuando puedas   See 20.12.5 for vení cuando podás) Levantate (levántate) Oíme, Pozzi (MP, Arg., óyeme) Mostrame (muéstrame)

Tell him to come in Sign up/Register and defend your rights Come when you can Get up Listen to me, Pozzi Show me

21.2  Positive forms of the imperative


(1) The vos imperative of ir is andá or andate, the form ve being avoided in speech in regions of voseo. The predicted form i is avoided but it is apparently heard in some rural areas of Argentina.

21.2.4 The vosotros imperative The European Spanish vosotros/vosotras imperative (used to address friends, relatives, children, animals) is formed by replacing the -r of the infinitive by -d. There are no exceptions: ser to be: sed tener to have: tened cantar to sing: cantad ir to go: id venir to come: venid The -d is dropped in the pronominal (‘reflexive’) form: dad + os = daos as in daos la mano ‘shakehands’, lavad + os = lavaos: lavaos el pelo ‘wash your hair’. There is one exception: id + os= idos ‘go away!’ from irse, although in relaxed everyday speech iros is nowadays common: see note 2. (1)  Latin-American Spanish uses ustedes where European Spanish uses vosotros/as, so these forms are virtually unknown in the Americas. (2)  In informal speech in Spain, this imperative is often expressed by the infinitive: venid = venir, id = ir, daos = daros, veníos = veniros, lavaos las manos ‘wash your hands’ = lavaros las manos, etc. Although it apparently has a long history, this construction is considered slovenly by some people. Example: tener (for tened) cuidado con Socorro que ya se ha cargado tres matrimonios (EA, Sp., dialogue) ‘watch out for Socorro – she’s already messed up three marriages’. Students should use the forms in -d or, in the case of pronominal verbs, -aos, -eos, ‑íos. For further remarks on the use of the infinitive as an imperative, see 21.9.

21.2.5 The usted/ustedes imperative The pronouns usted and ustedes have no independent imperative forms: they use the third-person singular or plural present subjunctive endings respectively: dígame ‘tell me’, tenga ‘take’/‘have’, empiecen ‘begin’, ayúdenme (ustedes), ‘help (plural) me’, etc. Ustedes forms are used for both polite and informal address in Latin America: Vaya a descansar. Preséntese aquí a las 11 Go and rest. Be here at 11 o’clock   (MVM, Sp., dialogue) ¡Ayúdeme, doctora! (MVLl, Pe.) Help me, doctor! Perdone si parezco impertinente (LO, Sp.) Excuse me if I seem impertinent No me vengan con que es poético ladrarle a Don’t try telling me that it’s poetic to   la luna (EM, Mex., dialogue)   bark at the moon For the position of the pronouns and the popular Latin-American form ?siénte(n)sen, see 21.4. See 12.3.2 for more on the use of usted/ustedes.

21.2.6  The imperative of estar For the affirmative imperative of estar ‘to be’ the pronominal (i.e. ‘reflexive’) form is normally, but not exclusively, used: estate quieto ‘be still’/‘stop fidgeting’, estense listos para las ocho ‘be ready by eight’. This is more common with the tú imperative because the non-pronominal form is easily confused with the third-person present singular está:

284 The imperative Las habrá amenazado con algo. Estate seguro He must have threatened them with   (JM, Sp., dialogue)   something. You can be sure (lit. ‘be sure’) —No se mueva. Por favor estese tranquilo Don’t move. Please remain calm   (CF, Mex. dialogue) —Esté tranquila —le dijo . . . si se mueve le ‘Keep calm,’ he told her . . . ‘if you  va mal, así que estese tranquila    move it’ll go badly for you, so keep calm’   (GGM, Col., dialogue) (1)  The NGLE 42.5b does not approve of the non-pronominal tú form of the imperative and the following example would have been expressed estate lista in Spain: paso a cambiarme como a las ocho. Por favor, está lista (CF, Mex., dialogue) ‘I’ll be home around eight to get changed. Please be ready’. The unambiguous forms esté, estén are however considered correct. (2)  One should write estate not estáte, and estese/estense, not estése/esténse. Accented forms are often seen in print but the accent is unnecessary: one does not write *deténlo for detenlo ‘arrest him’ even though the form without a pronoun is detén. (3)  There is a very colloquial form of estate – tate – heard in several Latin-American countries and occasionally in Spain.

21.3  Negative forms of the imperative To express a negative imperative, the present subjunctive form must be used: Affirmative imperative Negative imperative canta sing no cantes don’t sing vete go away no te vayas don’t go away stand up no se levante don’t stand up (usted) levántese sit down no os sentéis don’t sit down (vosotros) sentaos give it to him/ no se lo den don’t give it to him/ (ustedes) dénselo  her/them  her/them (1)  The Argentine vos forms obey the same rules, and foreign students should use the standard subjunctive forms with them for the reasons explained at 20.12.5: levantate > no te levantes. No te levantés is a shade too popular for many Argentines and is said to be ‘lower class’ in Uruguay.

21.4  Position of object pronouns with the imperative When an imperative form is used with an object pronoun, the following rules apply: (a)  If the imperative is affirmative, the pronouns are attached to the verb in the order shown at14.2.4): (Tú) dame la mano Hold my hand (Tú) ponte la chaqueta (Arg., vos ponete el saco) Put your jacket on (Usted) démelo Give it to me (Vosotros/as) dádmelo Give it to me (Vosotros) despertaos (colloquial despertaros; Wake up   see 21.2.4 note 2) (Ustedes) dénnoslo Give it to us Déjamelo ver, déjamelo ver (AM, Mex., Let me see it, let me see it   dialogue; or déjame verlo)

21.5  First-person plural imperatives


(b)  If the imperative is negative, the pronouns precede it in the order shown at 14.2.4: No me des la lata (tú) Stop pestering me No te pongas la chaqueta (tú) Don’t put your jacket on No me lo dé (usted) Don’t give it to me No os quejéis (vosotros) Don’t complain No se lo enseñen (ustedes) Don’t show it to him/her/them Es una chica que trabaja conmigo no te vayas She’s a girl who works with me –   a creer (CMG, Sp., dialogue)   don’t get the wrong idea (1)  When a pronoun ending in a vowel is attached to an affirmative ustedes imperative, there is a widespread tendency in very popular Latin-American speech either to repeat the plural -n at the end of the word or to shift it to the end of the word: ?levántensen or ?levántesen (for levántense) ‘get up’, ?desen cuenta que está por pasar lo más terrible aquí en nuestro país (reader’s letter, Foros Latinos, Ven., Sp. dense cuenta de que) ‘be aware that the most terrible thing is about to happen here in our country’, etc. In some places, these forms are heard even in spontaneous educated speech, but only in sub-standard or dialect speech in Spain, and they are not used in Latin-American written styles or careful speech. (2)  In popular language in Spain, pronouns are sometimes put before an affirmative imperativeverb and a redundant pronoun is used even for a direct object (this construction shouldnotbeconfused with imperatives preceded by que, discussed at 21.6): ?¡le dé el juguete al niño! (for dele el juguete al niño!) ‘give the toy to the child!’, ?las riegue las plantas (for riegue las­plantas) ‘water the plants’. This construction is strongly stigmatized and should not be imitated. (3)  Uncertainty surrounds the correct spelling of the usted imperative of dar (dé) when one pronoun is attached: dele or déle for ‘give him/her’? Since the accent merely distinguishes dé ‘give’ from de ‘of’, it is not needed on a form like dele, deles, denos. The Academy does not use it and El País, Sp. has dropped it.

21.5  First-person plural imperatives The present subjunctive can be used to make a first-person plural imperative, e.g. ‘let’s go!’, ‘let’s begin’. If the verb is pronominal – lavarse, volverse, etc. –, the final -s is dropped before adding ‑nos. If the imperative is negative the pronouns precede the verb: Empecemos Let’s get started Asegurémonos primero de la verdad de Let us first assure ourselves of   los hechos (not *asegurémosnos)   the truth of the facts Generemos un ambiente en donde todas estas Let us generate an environment in which   luchas hay que continuarlas   all these struggles must be continued   (interview, Mex.) No nos enfademos (Lat. Am. no nos enojemos) Let’s not get angry (1)  Important: ir/irse often forms its first-person plural imperative irregularly: vamos, vámonos ‘let’s go’. The expected forms, vayamos, vayámonos, are also used – vayamos a rescatar a la sargento y cenemos como personas, o intentémoslo (LS, Sp., dialogue) ‘let’s go and rescue the sergeant (fem.) and have a proper dinner, or try to’ (‘lit. ‘dine like persons/human beings’). Vayamos is found in set phrases, e.g. vayamos al grano ‘let’s get to the point’.

286 The imperative (2)  With the exception of vámonos ‘let’s go’, informal spoken language may avoid first-­person plural imperatives, usually by using ir a, or sometimes simply a and an infinitive, e.g.vamosasentarnos ‘let’s sit down’, bueno, a comer ‘OK, let’s eat’, vamos a verlo/a ver ‘let’s have a look’/‘let’s see’. Thus no nos enfademos ‘let’s not get angry’ may be expressed by no nos vamos a enfadar, no vamos a enfadarnos. However, no nos enfademos is perfectly acceptable in spoken language. (3) Important: as we said earlier, the final s of a first-person plural imperative is dropped if -nos is added: vamos – vámonos, sentémonos ‘let’s sit down’, quedémonos aquí ‘let’s stay here’. The s is not dropped before other pronouns (but see the next note): digámosles ‘let’s tell them’, celebrémoslo ‘let’s celebrate it’. (4) Important: double s is not found in Spanish, so one s is dropped in cases like the following: digámoselo ‘let’s tell it to him/her/them’ (not *digámosselo), démoselos ‘let’s give them to him/her/ them’. (5)  Important: double n must be retained and pronounced as a double sound: denos = ‘give us’ (singular usted form), dennos = ‘give us’ (plural ustedes form), (ustedes) dígannos ‘tell us’.

21.6  Third-person imperatives Third-person imperative forms consisting of que + a subjunctive are common. They are usually translatable by some formula like ‘let him/her/them . . .’, ‘tell him/her/them to . . .’: —Que llaman preguntando por su marido—. ‘There’s a phone call for your husband.’   Pues que lo/le llamen a la oficina   ‘Then tell them to call him at his office’ ¡Que trabaje tu PC! (Computer Hoy, Sp.) Get your PC working! Que ella los bañara, los vistiera, oyera sus Let her bathe them, clothe them, listen   preguntas, los enseñara a rezar y a creer   to their questions, teach them to pray   en algo (AM, Mex., dialogue)   and believe in something Que te sea leve I hope it won’t be too tough/Take it easy Pronouns always precede the verb in this construction. See 37.4 for further remarks on the use of the conjunction que. (1) Third-person imperatives without que are found in set phrases: ¡Dios nos coja confesados! (archaic or humorous) ‘Good God!’/‘Heavens above!’ (lit. ‘may God take us after we’ve confessed!’), ¡no lo permita Dios! ‘God forbid!’. ¡sálvese quien pueda! ‘every man for himself!’ (or woman: the Spanish version is not sexist), ¡viva/muera el presidente! ‘long live/death to the President!’, ¡vivan los novios! ‘here’s to the bride and groom!’ (2)  This construction must not be confused with que + subjunctive meaning ‘that’ or ‘the fact that’: ¡que me diga usted eso a estas alturas! ‘that you should tell me that at this stage of the business/now we’ve got this far!’; see 20.3.19.

21.7  Second-person imperatives preceded by que An imperative can be formed from a second-person subjunctive preceded by que. This makes the order more emphatic or presents it as a reminder: ¡Que pases un buen fin de semana! ¡Que no pierdas el dinero! ¡Que se diviertan!

Have a good weekend Don’t lose the money! Have a good time! (ustedes)

21.9  The infinitive used as an imperative


21.8  Impersonal imperatives (passive se imperatives) It is possible to form an imperative with passive se or the pasiva refleja, the resulting construction having no exact equivalent in English. It is used in formal written Spanish to give instructions without directly addressing the reader: Rellénese en mayúsculas Fill out in capital letters (lit. ‘let it be   filled out . . .’) Tradúzcanse al castellano las siguientes frases Translate the following phrases into    Spanish No obstante, permítansenos aquí algunas However, may we be allowed to say a   palabras (C. Sánchez López in GDLE)   few words here Cuézanse las patatas durante 15 minutos, Boil the potatoes for 15 minutes,   córtense en rodajitas, déjense enfriar y   cut them into slices, leave them to   cúbranse con mayonesa   cool and cover them with mayonnaise (1) Important: as the last three examples show, the verb agrees in number with the subject of the verb (in these cases with frases, palabras and patatas). There is a modern tendency to prefer the infinitive to this impersonal imperative. See the next section.

21.9  The infinitive used as an imperative The infinitive may be used as an imperative: (a)  In spoken European Spanish as a familiar alternative to the standard affirmative vosotros imperative ending in -d: decirme la verdad = decidme la verdad ‘tell me the truth’. This is not accepted by all speakers but it is constantly heard. See 21.2.4 note 2 for discussion. (b) Everywhere, as a brief, impersonal alternative to the usted/ustedes imperative, useful for public notices or instructions, e.g. in technical manuals or cookery books Empujar (notice on doors, sometimes Push   empujen or, in Spain, empujad) Poner los medallones en un plato, salsearlos, Put the medallions (of beef) on a plate,   y acompañarlos con las bolitas de papa,   season them and serve them with   zanahorias y un ramito de brócoli   the potato balls, carrots and a floret   (La Reforma, Mex. Papas = patatas in   of broccoli  Spain; salsear = sazonar, brócoli = brécol) Descolgar y esperar. Percibirá una señal Lift receiver and wait. You will hear a   acústica continua y uniforme. No demorar   continuous even tone. Do not delay   el marcar (phone book, Sp., marcar =  dialling   discar in many parts of Lat. Am.) (1)  This use of the infinitive instead of the usted(es) form is controversial. Some grammarians reject it for affirmative commands and admit only negative forms like no fumar ‘no smoking’, no tocar ‘don’t touch’, no fijar carteles ‘no bill-sticking’, no asomarse a la ventanilla ‘do not lean out of the window’; but affirmative forms are nowadays seen everywhere. In speech, use of the infinitive for an imperative when speaking directly to someone may sound sub-standard. María Moliner says that callarse todos for cállense todos ‘everybody be quiet’ is not acceptable, but it is nevertheless very common in informal speech everywhere.

288 The imperative (2)  Haber plus the past participle is often used to make a sarcastic, wise-after-the-event suggestion: —Me arrepiento de haberla llamado—. Bueno, no haberlo hecho . . . ‘“I regret calling her.” “Well, you shouldn’t have done it, should you?”’, —¡Vaya mojadura!— Haber traído el paraguas ‘“What a soaking!” “You should have brought your umbrella, shouldn’t you?”’ This construction is called the imperativo retrospectivo in Spanish. (3)  With the preposition a, the infinitive may be used to give orders in informal styles: —Todavía está sucio—. Bueno, a lavarlo otra ‘It’s still dirty’ ‘Well wash it again.’  vez (sounds colloquial without the a) —¡No tengo novio todavía! —Las ganas no te ‘I haven’t got a boyfriend yet!’ ‘You’re   faltan. ¡A buscarlo! (AA, Cu., dialogue)   keen enough. Look for one!’ ¡Todos a callar! Be quiet everybody! ¡A dormir inmediatamente! Go to sleep right now! This type of imperative can include the speaker: bueno, ahora a trabajar ‘OK, now let’s get to work’. (4)  In Spain, an infinitive is nowadays often used to introduce the last point in radio or TV news items. This is surely not an imperative but an abbreviation of some phrase like solo/sólo nos queda. . . or solo/sólo falta . . . ‘all that remains is to . . .’: y finalmente, añadir (for añadamos ‘let us add’?) que esta/ésta no es la primera vez que el autor recibe un importante premio literario ‘and finally we should add that this isn’t the first time that the author has received an important literary prize’. The Academy disapproves of this construction.

21.10  The present indicative used as an imperative The present indicative is often used as an imperative in spoken Spanish, just as in English; cf. ‘you’re getting up right now and going to school’. In both languages this tends to be a n ­ o-nonsense imperative and, depending on intonation, it can be brusque to the point of rudeness: Si tienes dinero, me lo das If you’ve got money, give it to me De acuerdo. No te guardo el sitio para OK. I won’t keep the space for you   mañana, pero pasado me haces dos páginas   tomorrow, but the day after you do two   (CRG, Sp., dialogue; editor to journalist)   pages for me Nomás que oscurezca te vas por la carretera y As soon as it gets dark, you go down   tiras en una barranca el cuerpo de una   the road and you throw the body   muchacha que se murió (JI, Mex., dialogue.   of a girl who died into a ravine   In Spain nomás que = en cuanto or nada más  and barranca is el barranco)

21.11  Ways of mellowing the imperative There are numerous ways of making a request sound friendly, although in any language a politely-worded request can sound rude if the intonation is abrupt or irritable. Some ways of making a request sound more friendly are: (a)  Use the conditional or imperfect of poder: ¿Podrían/Podían hacer menos ruido (por favor)? Would you mind making less noise?/     Could you make less noise? ¿Podrías hacerme el favor de no fumar? Would you mind not smoking?

21.12  Miscellaneous imperative constructions


(b) Use querer. The conditional makes the imperative even milder: ¿Quieres decirme la verdad? Would you mind telling me the truth? ¿Querrías (hacerme el favor de) darle Would you mind giving a message   un recado a Pedro?   to Pedro? (c)  Use the phrase a ver ‘let’s see . . .’: A ver si vienes a verme más a menudo Try to come and see me more often A ver si me devuelves el dinero que te presté Perhaps you could give me back     the money I lent you (d)  Turn the request into a question: ¿Me pasas el agua (por favor)? Pass the water please ¿Me pone con el 261-84-50 (por favor)? (See Can you connect me to 261 8450   11.17 for how to say telephone numbers)   please? (e)  In Spain, use tú instead of usted, even to strangers: ponme un tinto de verano ‘I’ll have a “summer red wine”’ (red wine diluted with soda water or lemonade). This is very widespread in Spain and appropriate between young people (say under forty) even when they are strangers, but it may sound over-familiar when said to older strangers and must not be used to people in authority. In Latin America tú is generally used less frequently between strangers. (f)  Add a diminutive suffix to the direct object noun: This is a common way of making a request sound friendly. Compare deme una barra de pan ‘give me a loaf of bread’ and deme una barrita de pan ‘I’ll just take a loaf of bread, please’. The diminutive does not necessarily imply smallness in this construction; it simply makes the tone friendlier, as in fuimos a tomar unas copitas ‘we went and had a couple of drinks’ (see 43.2.2 for more details). (g)  Add some tag like ¿eh?, ¿puedes?: Vamos al cine, ¿quieres?/¿vale? Abre la puerta, ¿puedes? No chilles, ¿eh?

Let’s go the cinema, okay? Open the door would you Stop screaming

21.12  Miscellaneous imperative constructions Oye/Oiga (usted) (por favor)   (lit. ‘hear!’)

Excuse me! (to call someone’s attention)

No lo vuelvas a hacer/No vuelvas a hacerlo Don’t do it again Mira lo que he comprado Look what I bought Fíjate en lo que me ha pasado Look what happened to me Imagínate qué disgusto Imagine how upset I was (lit. ‘imagine    what displeasure’) Ténmelo/Téngamelo preparado Have it ready for me Trae que te lleve la bolsa (colloquial, Let me carry your bag   Sp. only?) Trae aquí (colloquial, Sp. only?) Give it here/Let me take it No se te ocurra hacer eso Don’t even think of doing that No dejes de llamarme/No se te olvide llamarme Don’t forget to call me Vete a saber Goodness knows/Heaven knows why

290 The imperative No me digas (incredulous tone) Vayan entrando

You don’t say! Start coming in

(1)  In Spain the word venga has become a constantly used catch-phrase roughly meaning ‘OK’, ‘fine’: venga, dáselo a papá ‘come on, give it to daddy’, venga, vámonos ‘OK, let’s go’, venga, te llamo mañana ‘OK, I’ll call you tomorrow’. Constant use of vale for ‘fine’/‘OK’, is noted by Latin Americans as being typical of the Spanish of Spain, where the word OK is not much used.

22 The infinitive The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • • • • • •

Verb + infinitive, e.g. quiero ir, dice saber, trató de pasar, etc. (Section 22.2) La vi entrar, los oí decir, etc. (Section 22.2.4) Infinitive after prepositions and subordinators (Section 22.3) Antes de hacerlo compared with antes de que lo haga (Section 22.3.2) Comimos al llegar, al darnos cuenta . . ., etc. (Section 22.3.3) Infinitive used in place of finite forms (e.g. —¿Qué hacemos? —Esperar; cualquier cosa menos casarse, etc.) (Section 22.4) Possible passive meaning of the Spanish infinitive (Section 22.5) The infinitive as a noun and the definite article with the infinitive (Sections 22.6–7) Es difícil de hacer compared with es difícil hacerlo (Section 22.10) Total a pagar, un punto a tener en cuenta (Section 22.13)

22.1 Summary Spanish infinitives end in -ar, -er or -ir, e.g. hablar, comer, vivir. A few infinitives, e.g. freír, reír, sonreír, have an accent on the i. These are listed at 16.6.6. The infinitive may act as a verb or noun. In the latter case it is masculine and usually singular: fumar es malo para la salud ‘smoking is bad for the health’. One must not use the gerund to translate this kind of English sentence: *fumando es malo para la salud is not Spanish. The Spanish infinitive can sometimes have a passive meaning as in tres cartas sin terminar ‘three unfinished letters’. See 22.5. The Spanish infinitive often takes suffixed personal pronouns, e.g. antes de hacerlo ‘before doing it’, sin habérnoslo dado ‘without having given it to us’. When the infinitive is governed by a finite verb, position of the pronouns is often optional, as in quiero verlo and lo quiero ver ‘I want to see it/him’: see 14.3.4–5 and below at 22.2.2. For the use of the infinitive as an imperative see 21.9. For de + infinitive to mean ‘if . . .’ as in de haberlos visto los habríamos saludado ‘if we’d seen them we’d have said hello to them’ see 29.8.3.

22.2 Infinitive governed by a verb This section refers to constructions like sabe nadar ‘(s)he can swim’, te desafío a hacerlo ‘I challenge you to do it’, te oí decirlo ‘I heard you say it’, etc. These have many parallels in English, but there are some surprises.

22.2.1 Replacement of finite subordinate verbs by an infinitive Some verbs, particularly verbs meaning ‘to say’, ‘to affirm’, allow either an infinitive or que + a finite verb when the subjects are the same, e.g. Juan dice conocerla or Juan dice que la conoce ‘Juan says that he knows her’ (where Juan and ‘he’ are the same person). In such cases, use of the infinitive makes the sentence unambiguous in the third person, whereas Juan dice que la conoce

292 The infinitive is ambiguous, i.e. it could also mean ‘Juan says that he (someone else)/she/you know(s) her’. Compare these pairs: Desmintieron que hubieran/hubiesen They denied that they’d launched the   lanzado el misil   missile (i.e. themselves or someone else) Desmintieron haber lanzado el misil They denied launching the missile Afirmaba que era francés He claimed he was French (himself or   someone else) Afirmaba ser francés He claimed to be French Further examples: Dijo llamarse Simón . . . tener 42 años, ser He said he was called Simón, was 42,   casado, mexicano y estar radicado en el   married, Mexican and lived in Salto   Salto de la Tuxpana (JI, Mex. Imitates   de la Tuxpana   police report language) Había creído volverse loco, pensado en He had imagined he was going mad,  matarse (MVLl, Pe.)   thought about killing himself La información . . . revela ser falsa The information turns out to be false   (CF, Mex., dialogue) Reconoció/Confesó haberlo hecho (S)he confessed to having done it and similarly with admitir ‘to admit’, recordar/acordarse de ‘to remember’, ocultar ‘to hide’ olvidar ‘to forget’. (1)  Some verbs always take an infinitive because they can only have one subject: se obstinaba en hacerlo ‘(s)he insisted on doing it’, tienden a abstenerse ‘they tend to abstain’. (2)  In written language, an infinitive may appear in relative clauses when the subjects refer to different things and the clause includes a verb of saying or believing. This avoids the use of two ques: las tres muchachas, que él creía ser hijas de don Mateo (rather than que él creía que eran . . .) ‘the three girls, whom he believed to be the daughters of Don Mateo’. (3)  The past equivalent of the infinitive is made with haber + past participle: dice haberlo comprado hace meses ‘(s)he says that (s)he bought it months ago’. (4)  Despite the clarity of the infinitive construction, it tends to be confined to formal styles and the ambiguous construction with que is more usual in everyday language. One is more likely to say dicen que lo saben than dicen saberlo for ‘they say they know it’.

22.2.2  Verbs followed by the infinitive The following list shows some common verbs that are followed by an infinitive. French equivalents are supplied in some cases to remind students of that language to avoid all-too-frequent blunders like *intentar de hacer algo for intentar hacer algo (French essayer de faire quelquechose) ‘to try to do something’. Where no preposition is shown the verb is followed by an infinitive alone, as in anhelaban hacerlo ‘they longed/yearned to do it’. Some verbs may be used either with the infinitive or with que plus a subjunctive as explained at 20.3.8. Selection of verbs followed by infinitive Verbs preceded by § may be followed by an infinitive even when the subject of the infinitive is not the subject of the finite verb, as in yo le aconsejé a Roberto no hacerlo ‘I advised Roberto not to do it’. See 20.3.8c for details.

22.2  Infinitive governed by a verb


Verbs marked with an asterisk allow pronoun shifting: see note 1. This list has caused us many headaches, the problem being that some shifted forms are widely heard but may be popular or colloquial and unacceptable to careful speakers. For example, hay que hacerlo is normal but the shifted form, ??lo hay que hacer is popular though widespread. We have not marked all of these doubtful cases with an asterisk. abstenerse de to refrain from acabar de*: i.e. acabo de verla or   la acabo de ver ‘I’ve just seen  her/it/you’ acabar por* to end by acercarse a/para to approach  (Fr. s’approcher de) aceptar to accept acertar a* to manage to/to  succeed §aconsejar* to advise (Fr.   conseiller de) acordar to agree to acordarse de to remember  (cf. recordar. See note 4) acostumbrar a* to be   accustomed to §acusar de to accuse of afanarse por to do one’s best to afirmar to claim/to state alcanzar a * to manage to: lo   alcancé a ver ‘I managed   to see it’ amenazar (con) to threaten to  (Fr. menacer de): amenazó   matarlo/le or con matarlo/le anhelar to long to §animar a to encourage to ansiar to long to aparentar to seem to aprender a* to learn to: the   shifted form is colloquial apresurarse a to hasten to arrepentirse de to regret/to  repent arriesgarse a to risk asegurar to assure atreverse a to dare to (cf. Fr.   oser faire) §autorizar a/para to authorize  to avergonzarse de to be ashamed  of ayudar a to help to bajar a to go down to: bajé a  verla ‘I went down to see her’

brindarse a to offer to buscar to seek to (Fr. chercher à) cansarse de to tire of ceñirse a to limit oneself to cesar de to cease comenzar a* to begin to comenzar por to start by comprometerse a to undertake to conceder to concede to §condenar a to condemn to §conducir a to lead to confesar to confess conseguir* to succeed in consentir en to agree to (Fr.   consentir à) consistir en to consist of contribuir a to contribute to convenir to be appropriate convenir en to agree to §convidar a to invite to creer to believe cuidar de to take care to §culpar de to blame someone  for deber* must. See 25.3 decidir to decide to (Fr. décider  de) decidirse a to make up one’s   mind to decir tell (i.e. order; Fr. dire de)   also ‘say’. See 20.3.7 declarar to declare dedicarse a to dedicate oneself  to §dejar* to let/to allow: le dejó hacerlo or se lo dejó hacer   ‘(s)he let him/her do it’; dejar de* to leave off/to give  up demostrar to demonstrate   (more usually with que +   finite verb) §desafiar a to challenge to (Fr.   défier de) desear* to desire/to wish to.   Lo deseo ver is colloquial.

desesperar de to despair of desvivirse por to do one’s   utmost to dignarse (a) to deign to disponerse a to get ready to §disuadir de to dissuade from divertirse en to amuse oneself   by (usually with gerund; Fr.   s’amuser à) dudar en to hesitate over (Fr.   hésiter à) elegir to choose to empeñarse en to insist on empecinarse en to insist on empezar a* to begin to empezar por to start by encargarse de to take charge of enseñar a to show how to/  teach §enviar a to send to esforzarse por/en to strive to  (Fr. s’efforcer de) esperar to hope/expect/wait to evitar to avoid (Fr. éviter de) fingir to pretend to §forzar a to force to guardarse de to take care not to gustar de to like to (but  usually le gusta fumar, etc.) haber que ‘to be necessary to’.   See 25.4.2 note 1 habituarse a to get used to §hacer to make (la hizo callar,  etc.) hartarse de to tire of imaginar to imagine §impedir* to prevent from   . . . (Fr. défendre de) imponer to oblige to §impulsar a to urge to §incitar a to incite to §inclinarse a to incline to §inducir a to induce/   persuade to insistir en to insist on  (Fr. insister pour)

294 The infinitive §instar a to urge to intentar* to try to (Fr. essayer  de): lo intentaron hacer is   more colloquial than   intentaron hacerlo interesarse en (or por) to   take interest in (Fr.   s’intéresser à) §invitar a to invite to ir a* to go to (esto va a hacerse  pronto ‘this will be done  soon’) jactarse de to boast of jurar to swear to lamentar to regret to limitarse a to limit oneself to llegar a* to go so far   as to . . . (the unshifted form   is much more usual) llevar a to lead to lograr* to succeed in luchar por struggle to §mandar* to order to  (Fr. ordonner de) §mandar a to order (to do  something) manifestar to state/to declare   (usually with que . . .) maravillarse de to marvel at merecer to deserve to meterse a to start to molestarse en to bother to necesitar* to need to: lo  necesitamos hacer is colloquial negar to deny (negarse a refuse  to) §obligar a to oblige to  (Fr. obliger de) obstinarse en to insist   obstinately on (Fr.   s’obstiner à)

ofrecer to offer (usually with   que . . .) oír* to hear. See 22.2.4 olvidar to forget; olvidarse de, olvidársele; to   forget. See 30.7.26 optar (usually optar por) to   opt to §ordenar to order to  (Fr. ordonner de) parar de to stop parecer to seem to pasar a to go on to pasar de to be uninterested in §pedir to ask to (Fr. demander à,   demander  de). See 20.3.9 pensar* pienso hacerlo ‘I plan to   do it’ pensar en to think of (Fr.   penser à) §permitir* to allow to  (Fr. permettre de) persistir en to persist in  (Fr. persister à) poder* to be able to ponerse a to start to precipitarse a to rush to preferir to prefer to prepararse a to get ready to presumir de to boast about pretender to claim to/to try to proceder a to proceed to procurar to try hard to §prohibir to prohibit from  (Fr. défendre de) prometer to promise to (Fr.   promettre de) quedar en to agree to querer* to want to §recomendar to recommend  that

reconocer to acknowledge   (more usually with que) recordar to remember to (see   note 4) rehuir to shun/to avoid rehusar to refuse to (Fr.   refuser de) renunciar a to renounce §reprochar to reproach for resignarse a to resign oneself to resistirse a to resist resultar to turn out to be resolver to resolve to (Fr.   résoudre de) saber* to know how to sentir to regret/to be sorry for soler*: solía hacerlo ‘(s)he   habitually did it’ (see 25.6) solicitar to apply to soñar con to dream of (Fr.   rêver de) tardar en to be late in/to be a   long time in (Fr. tarder à) temer to fear to tender a* to tend to: sometimes   shifted colloquially tener que* to have to §tentar a to tempt to terminar de to finish tratar de* try to; but lo trató de  hacer is colloquial vacilar en to hesitate over venir de to come from . . . ver* to see. See 22.2.4 ver de to try to volver a (hacer)* to (do) again.   See 36.6 votar por to vote for

(1)  An asterisk marks verbs that allow pronoun shifting: one can say acabo de hacerlo or lo acabo de hacer ‘I’ve just done it’, pienso mudarme mañana or me pienso mudar mañana ‘I’m thinking of moving tomorrow’. Pronoun shifting is discussed in detail at 14.3.4–5. (2)  Verbs of motion, e.g. salir, bajar, ir, volver, entrar, acercar(se), always take a before an infinitive: bajó a verla ‘(s)he went down to see her’, entraron a saludar al profesor ‘they went in to say hello to the teacher’, etc. When the subjects are not identical, a que or para que + subjunctive is required: bajó a/para que la vieran/viesen ‘she went down so they could see her’. (3)  For the use of the infinitive as a noun, e.g. es bueno jugar al tenis ‘it’s good to play tennis’/‘playing tennis is good’, see 22.6–7.

22.2  Infinitive governed by a verb


(4)  The construction is me acuerdo de haberlo visto or recuerdo haberlo visto ‘I remember seeing him/ it’. Recordarse can only mean ‘to remember oneself’, as in me recuerdo como un niño muy tímido ‘I remember myself as a very timid child’. Recordarse for ‘to remember’ is heard in familiar LatinAmerican speech but it is avoided in careful styles and is considered incorrect in Spain.

22.2.3 Verbs of permitting and forbidding, and other verbs constructed with an indirect object Most, but not all, verbs that can be constructed with an indirect object, e.g. les permití hacerlo/les permití que lo hicieran ‘I let them do it’, allow either a subjunctive or an infinitive construction. They are discussed at 20.3.8c. (1) It is worth repeating here that when used with the infinitive, verbs of obliging, prohibiting and permitting can appear without an object pronoun in Spanish but not in English: esto prohíbe pensar que . . . ‘this prohibits one from thinking that . . .’. See 20.3.8 note 2.

22.2.4 Infinitive after verbs of perception like ‘to see’, ‘to hear’, ‘to remember’ The infinitive is used after verbs like ver, oír, recordar to denote a completed action; an incomplete action is indicated by the gerund. English makes the same distinction: compare lo/le vi fumar un puro ‘I saw him smoke a cigar’ (and finish it) and lo/le vi fumando un puro ‘I saw him smoking a cigar’. See 24.6–7 for more examples. The word order with an intransitive infinitive is as follows: vi entrar a Marta ‘I saw Marta come in’, where Marta is the direct object of ver and the subject of entrar. Vi a Marta entrar is also found but more often in literary styles. But with transitive infinitives the order is Subject-InfinitiveNoun, i.e. vimos a Roberto comprar unas flores ‘we saw Robert buy some flowers’: Te vi entrar I saw you come in Te lo vi firmar I saw you sign it Notábamos entrar a varias personas We noticed several suspicious-looking   de aspecto sospechoso   people entering Millones vieron una manzana caer, pero solo Millions saw/had seen an apple fall, but   Newton se preguntó por qué (El only Newton asked why   Economista, Mex.) Vi a Beatriz Noguera suplicar ante la puerta I saw Beatriz Noguera pleading at Muriel’s   de Muriel (JM, Sp.)   door No he oído nunca aullar a un lobo, pero sé que I’ve never heard a wolf howl, but I know it   era un lobo (JLB, Arg., dialogue)   was a wolf Marés sentía desintegrarse día a día su Marés felt his personality disintegrating day   personalidad (JMs, Sp.)   by day Se lo oí decir I heard her/him/you (usted/es)/them say it Quiero escuchárselo decir (RB, Ch., dialogue) I want to hear you (usted) say it (1)  Important: the crucial ‘rule of two l’s’ explained at 14.9 means that if a third-person pronoun is optionally shifted leftwards in this construction, the first pronoun, if it begins with l, becomes se: la vi firmarlo ‘I saw her sign it’ > se lo vi firmar, lo/le oí confesarlo > ‘I heard him confess it’ > se lo oí confesar, los vi hacerlo > se lo vi hacer. (2)  Important: the Spanish infinitive can be active or passive in meaning, so a passive may be required in the English translation: nunca la oí nombrar ‘I’ve never heard her mentioned’, vio

296 The infinitive detener a varios manifestantes ‘(s)he saw several demonstrators arrested’. See 22.5. This occasionally causes ambiguity. Vi matar a dos leones could out of context mean either ‘I saw two lions killed’ or ‘I saw two lions kill’, the first meaning being more likely.

22.3  Infinitive after prepositions and subordinators 22.3.1  Infinitive after prepositions Important: the infinitive is used after prepositions and prepositional phrases: fue la primera en enterarse ‘she was the first to find out’, estoy harto de decírtelo ‘I’m tired of telling you’, reprende a la banca por arriesgarse (El País, Sp.) ‘he reproaches the banks for taking risks’, un líquido para quitar las manchas ‘a liquid to remove stains’, un abrigo sin estrenar ‘an unworn coat’, etc. Prepositions are never used before a Spanish gerund: **estoy harto de diciéndotelo is not Spanish (for an archaic exception to this rule see 24.5).

22.3.2  Choice between the infinitive and que + finite verb An infinitive construction is possible after the subordinators listed in section 20.4.2 e.g. hasta ‘until’, para ‘in order to’, sin ‘without’, nada más ‘as soon as’, and those consisting of phrases that require the word de que before a finite verb, e.g. antes de (que) ‘before’, después de (que) ‘after’, el hecho de (que) ‘the fact that’, etc. Foreign students should apply the following rule: use the infinitive with these subordinators only if the subject of the following verb is the same as the main verb’s, as in lo hice antes de salir ‘I did it before I went out/before going out’. If the subjects are different, the subjunctive or indicative must be used (although the rule is applied loosely with antes de and después de), the choice being determined by the rules laid out at 20.4.1. Compare lo haré nada más acabar esto ‘I’ll do it as soon as I’ve finished this’ and lo haré nada más que acabe esto ‘I’ll do it as soon as this finishes’. The latter sentence could also, however, mean ‘as soon as I finish this’ or ‘as soon as (s)he finishes/you finish . . .’. Further examples: Lo haré después de comer Lo haré después de que hayas comido Entré sin verte Entré sin que tú me vieras/vieses Se fue antes de contestar Se fue antes de que yo contestase/contestara Enfermó (Lat. Am. se enfermó) por no comer

I’ll do it after I’ve had lunch I’ll do it after you’ve had lunch I entered without seeing you I entered without you seeing me (S)he left before answering (S)he left before I answered (S)he fell sick from not eating

(1)  Spontaneous language quite often uses an infinitive construction with these subordinators even when the subjects are not identical. Thus. vino a los tres días de que te fueras tú ‘(s)he arrived three days after you left’ is correct, but vino a los tres días de irte tú (ABV, Sp., dialogue) is constantly heard. The GDLE 27.2.1 describes no es conveniente marcharte sin despedirte as ‘careless’ for no es conveniente que te marches sin despedirte ‘it’s not right for you to leave without saying goodbye’. Further examples: ?Le miraba sin él darse cuenta (JMs, Sp., He watched him without him  dialogue: sin que él se diese/diera cuenta)  realizing ?¿Te voy a ver antes de irte? (Spanish Am I going to see you before you go?   informant, i.e. . . . antes de que te vayas) ¿Me podés comprar postales para mandar yo? Could you buy me some postcards   (Argentine informant, i.e. para que yo las   for me to send?  mande; Sp. puedes for podés)

22.4  Replacement of finite forms of a verb by an infinitive


(2)  If the infinitive construction is used, the best order is preposition + infinitive + subject, as in me fui antes de llegar tú ‘I left before you arrived’. One hears the order preposition + subject + infinitive in very informal speech, as in ?para él hablar así, tenía que estar borracho ‘he must have been drunk for him to talk like that’ (from GDLE 36.3.4), ?es decir que había comprado marfil para usted vender (VdC, Cu. for . . . para que usted lo vendiera/vendiese) ‘in other words he had bought ivory for you to sell’. The NGLE 26.7i says that this latter order is frequent in Caribbean Spanish, but it is also heard frequently elsewhere, cf. Spain ¡para él decir eso! ‘fancy him saying that!’. (3)  Note, that when looking back in time, one can use either the present or perfect infinitive after a preposition: después de haber sido/de ser declarado inocente ‘after having been/being declared innocent’, luego de haber instalado/de instalar el programa, mi PC se me colgó ‘after installing the programme my PC crashed’.

22.3.3  Al + infinitive This means the same as the English ‘on’ + the -ing form of a verb: noté el perfume al entrar ‘I noticed the perfume on entering’, i.e. ‘when I entered’. The Spanish construction is very common on both continents: Se alegró al enterarse (S)he was happy when (s)he found out Al fumarlo los indios experimentaban una When they smoked it the Indians   especie de éxtasis (El País, Sp.)   experienced a sort of ecstasy Al terminar el bachillerato Gladys pasó a After finishing her baccalaureate Gladys   un organismo estatal (MP, Arg.)   moved to a government organization Se detuvo un instante sorprendido, al ver de He stopped for a moment, surprised to see   nuevo los rasgos olvidados del conserje   again the forgotten features of the janitor   (CF, Mex.) (1)  This construction can also mean ‘because’: al no ser morales, los animales no deben actuar de acuerdo con ciertos valores (La Nación, Arg.) ‘since they are not moral beings, animals do not have to act according to certain values’, una tecnología que no representa ningún riesgo para la población y el entorno, al no producir residuos (Granma, Cu.) ‘technology that presents no risk to the population or environment since it produces no waste’. (2)  In theory, al + infinitive ought to be used only when the subjects are the same, as in al despedirme le dije a uno de los dos . . . ‘as I said goodbye I said to one of the two of them . . .’, but sentences like al despedirme uno de los dos me dijo (JLB, Arg., dialogue, different subjects) ‘as I left one of the two said to me’, al llegar a la puerta principal ya lo esperaba la madre superiora. (MS, Mex.) ‘when he got to the main door the Mother Superior was already waiting for him’, are very common in relaxed styles. (3)  The conditional meaning of this construction is, according to NGLE 26.13j, confined to Mexico, Central America and the Andes region: al ganar la lotería me mudaría a la capital ‘if I won the lottery I’d move to the capital’ (for si ganara/ganase . . .). This conditional use is avoided in Spain.

22.4  Replacement of finite forms of a verb by an infinitive The infinitive rather than a finite verb may be used in the following circumstances: (a)  To give an abrupt response to a question, as one does when the answer is obvious: —¿Qué hacemos ahora? —Esperar —¿Pero se puede saber que está usted

‘What do we do now?’ ‘Wait’ ‘But do you mind saying what you’re

298 The infinitive  haciendo? —¡Sacar a mi mujer!     (EA, Sp., dialogue)

doing?’ ‘Getting my wife out!’

(b) After más que, menos, excepto: Yo siempre sospeché que había algo después I always suspected that there was   de la muerte. Más que sospecharlo,   something after death. More than   lo sabía, casi con seguridad (JJM, Pan.,   suspect it, I knew it, almost as a certainty  dialogue) . . . ojos que más que mirar, retan (EA, Sp.) . . . eyes that rather than look, challenge Más que proteger a la naturaleza, los The Zapatistas identify with nature rather   zapatistas manifiestan su identidad con ella   than protect it   (JV, Mex.) . . . todo, menos/excepto volver a escribirlo . . . anything, except write it again (c)  For naming or listing actions, as in: . . . y esto es lo que hacen los campesinos: . . . and this is what peasants do: ploughing   arar, plantar, podar, regar   /US plowing, planting, pruning, watering ¿Sabéis/Saben lo que yo hago después de que Do you know what I do after you’ve gone   vosotros os habéis ido/ustedes se han ido   home? Work   a casa? Trabajar (d)  In indignant or sarcastic statements and questions like ¿para qué servirle carne a un vegetariano? ‘what’s the point of serving meat to a vegetarian?’ See 22.9.

22.5  Infinitive: passive or active? The Spanish infinitive may have a passive meaning, especially after sin, por, a and para. This has no counterpart in English: Esto aún está por ver This is still to be seen una cerveza sin abrir an unopened beer Pasaba el tiempo sin sentir (CMG, Sp.) Time passed unnoticed En su recámara había cuatro maletas a In her room there were four half  medio hacer (AM, Mex., dialogue;   packed suitcases   recámara = habitación in Spain) Transcurrieron años sin tener noticias de Years passed without (lit. ‘without having’)   lo ocurrido   news of what had happened being   received . . . trabajos para hacer por el estudiante . . . work to be done (lit. ‘to do’) by the student (1)  After adjectival phrases like digno de ‘worthy of’, imposible de, difícil de, fácil de the infinitive may appear with or without ‘passive se’: el diseño del panel frontal es digno de tener(se) en cuenta ‘the design of the front panel is worth noting’, este tipo de tumor es difícil de observar(se) micros­ cópicamente ‘this type of tumour is difficult to observe under the microscope’, es algo imposible de imaginar(se) ‘it’s something that’s impossible to imagine’. One could also use the passive with ser:. . . digno de ser tenido en cuenta, . . . difícil de ser observado.

22.6  Infinitive as a noun The infinitive may function as a noun, in which case it is sometimes translated by an English -ing form. Used as a noun, an infinitive is always masculine and usually singular:

22.7  Definite article before the infinitive

Mañana me toca lavar el coche aquel fluir movedizo de los colores (CMG, Sp.) mejor no hacerlo Odio ordenar un atolondrado ir y venir Sólo cuesta 20,000 pesos construir este auto  (Excélsior, Mex. Este coche in Spain.   In most Spanish-speaking countries   20,000 is written 20.000)


It’s my turn to wash the car tomorrow that shifting flow of the colours . . . Best not do it I hate sorting/tidying a mad coming and going This car costs only 20,000 pesos to build

22.7  Definite article before the infinitive The definite article is used before the infinitive: (a)  in the common construction al + infinitive: tómese una pastilla al acostarse ‘take a pill on going to bed’. See 22.3.3 for discussion. (b)  When the infinitive is qualified by an adjective or by a noun phrase joined to the infinitive, often by the preposition de: Oyó el agitado girar de una cucharilla contra He heard the agitated grating of a   un vaso (LG, Sp.)   teaspoon against a glass Cristina escuchó el percutir de las gotas de la Cristina listened to the patter of   ducha sobre los azulejos (LO, Cu.)   drops from the shower on the tiles con el andar de los años as the years passed by . . . por el solo haberse enamorado de Josefa . . . just because of having fallen in love   con mirarla (AM, Mex.)   with Josefa from looking at her (c)  In other cases when the infinitive is used as a noun, the definite article seems to be optional, although it is less common in informal styles, e.g. comer es como tomar. En exceso hace daño (EP Mex., dialogue. Tomar here = beber alcohol in Spain) ‘eating is like drinking. In excess it causes harm’, vivir con un hombre equivale a trabajar 7 horas extras (Excélsior, Mex.) ‘living with a man is the equivalent of working seven extra hours’. The article is, however, quite often retained when the infinitive is the subject of a verb. In all the following examples the el before the infinitive could be omitted, although in the examples it was used. Omission of the article el would make the style slightly less literary: Paula no pudo evitar (el) reírse (JJP, Sp.) Paula couldn’t help laughing (El) estar sin móvil, para mí, va a suponer Being without a mobile/cell phone will   algo horrible (interview, La Sexta, Sp.)   mean something horrible for me Como si . . . estimaran prudente (el) estar As if they thought it prudent to be ready   preparados para salir a la calle afrontando   to go out into the street and face the cold   el frío (RB, Ch.) G. nunca pudo perdonar a Heisenberg (el) no G. was never able to forgive Heisenberg   haber hecho lo suficiente para salvarlos   for not having done enough to save them   (JV, Mex.) The article is obligatory when an infinitive is followed by de when the phrase is the subject of a verb: el crujir de los dientes es un síntoma . . .‘grinding of teeth is a symptom . . .’, el trinar de los pájaros le confortaba ‘the warbling of the birds comforted him’. In other cases, the use of de shows that the infinitive is used as a noun rather than as a verb. Compare oía crujir las ramas ‘(s)he heard the branches creaking’(verb) and oía el crujir de las ramas ‘(s)he heard the creak(ing) of the branches’ (noun). In both cases a noun could have been used, e.g. el trino and el crujido.

300 The infinitive (d)  The article is required in some constructions involving en: La moda en el vestir influye en la moda Fashion in dressing influences fashion   del maquillaje   in make-up Algunos españoles son un poco enfáticos Some Spaniards are rather ponderous   en el hablar   in their manner of speaking Lo/le conocí en el andar I recognized him from his way of walking (e)  The indefinite article un is also found before infinitives: en un abrir y cerrar de ojos in the wink of an eye Después de dos años de un agitado avanzar after two years of agitated progress   por el camino de la libertad . . .   along the road to liberty . . . . . . siluetas, grupos, en un ir y venir sin prisas . . . silhouettes, groups, unhurriedly coming   (MVLl, Pe.)   and going

22.8  Infinitive as an imperative The use of the infinitive as an imperative form, as in calentar el aceite en una cazuela, freír las habas, luego las patatas ‘heat the oil in a casserole dish, fry the beans and then the potatoes’, is discussed at 21.9.

22.9  ‘Rhetorical’ infinitive The infinitive may be used in rhetorical questions or to express disbelief, indignation or sarcasm: ¡Pagar yo cien mil por eso! Me pay 100,000 for that! ¡Enamorarme yo a mis años! Me fall in love at my age! Pero, ¿cómo abrirlo sin llave? But how do you open it without a key? Pero no tiene sentido, si es en hebreo ¿por qué But it doesn’t make sense. If it’s in Hebrew   usar caracteres griegos? (MC, Mex., dialogue)   why use Greek letters? ¿Por qué condenar el proyecto estrella de Why condemn the star project of a   toda una gestión presidencial? (Vértice, ES)   whole presidential initiative? and also after words like ¿dónde? and ¿para qué?: ¿(a)dónde ir? ‘where on earth shall we go?’, ¿para qué insistir? ‘why insist?’ (1) The NGLE 26.14j notes the Mexican expression ni modo de: ni modo de pedirle plata (i.e. dinero) ‘no point asking him for money’. Elsewhere ni hablar de . . . means the same thing. (2)  In Spain venga a + infinitive expresses the idea of tiresome repetition: y él venga a pedirme que me case con él ‘and he keeps on and on asking me to marry him’.

22.10  Adjective + de + infinitive Es difícil aprender español ‘it is difficult to learn Spanish’ differs from el español es difícil de aprender ‘Spanish is difficult to learn’. In the first sentence the subject of es is aprender and de is not used when the infinitive is the subject’: no es fácil creerlo ‘it isn’t easy to believe it’, parece difícil solucionar tal problema ‘it seems difficult to solve such a problem’, resulta imposible comprobar que . . . ‘it is impossible to prove that . . .’.

22.13  El problema a resolver, un argumento a tener en cuenta, etc.


But when the infinitive is not the subject, de must be used (subject in bold, but it may be implicit in the Spanish verb): (eso) es difícil de averiguar ‘that is difficult to check/confirm’, para este Día del Padre sorprenda a papá con un delicioso menú fácil y rápido de elaborar (La Reforma, Mex.) ‘for today, Father’s Day, surprise father with a delicious menu that’s easy and quick to prepare’, resulta difícil de definir ‘it is difficult to define’, ciertos movimientos difíciles de imitar ‘certain movements (that were/are) difficult to imitate’.

22.11  Infinitive preceded by que The following constructions must be noted, particularly by students of French: cf. j’ai beaucoup à faire, il n’y a rien à manger, etc.: Tengo muchas cosas que hacer/decir Voy a comprar algo que/para leer Dame algo que/para hacer Eso nos ha dado bastante que hacer Te queda mucho que ver en este mundo No tiene mucho que ver con este problema

I’ve got a lot of things to do/say I’m going to buy something to read Give me something to do This has given us enough to do You’ve a lot left to see in this world It hasn’t got a lot to do with this problem

But this construction with que cannot be used with verbs of needing, requesting, searching: Necesito algo para comer I need something to eat Quiero algo para beber I want something to drink Pidió algo para (or con que) calmar su dolor (S)he asked for something to soothe   de muelas   his/her toothache Busco algo para . . . I’m looking for something to . . .

22.12 No tengo qué comer, no sabía dónde ir, etc. This construction is similar to English: No tenían qué comer Había sitios a donde ir a bailar (JA, Mex.) No encontró dónde cambiar dólares (ibid.)

They had nothing to eat There were places to go dancing He didn’t find anywhere to change dollars

(1)  In the first example the accent on qué is crucial: cf. no tenían que comer ‘they didn’t have to/ need to eat’. In the third example, it can be omitted from dónde. But yo no sabía dónde pasar la noche ‘I didn’t know where to spend the night’ is clearly an indirect question, so dónde requires an accent. See Chapter 28 for more details.

22.13  El problema a resolver, un argumento a tener en cuenta, etc. This combination of a noun + a + an infinitive in phrases like el problema a resolver ‘the problem to be solved’ is controversial. El País, Libro de estilo 2014, 13.8, condemns it, but Seco(1998),5, welcomes its brevity and points out that it is not identical to por + infinitive: cosas por hacer = ‘things still to be done’, cosas a hacer = ‘things to do’. The Academy’s Esbozo . . ., 3.11.5, tolerates certain set expressions used in commerce and finance, e.g. total a pagar ‘total payable’, cantidades a deducir ‘amounts deductible’, asuntos a tratar ‘business pending’/‘agenda’, but notes that the Academies

302 The infinitive of all Spanish-speaking countries condemn such sentences as tengo terrenos a vender ‘I’ve got land to sell’ (for que/para vender), personas a convocar ‘people to call/summon’ (for que convocar), etc. The NGLE 26.6l, says of this construction that ‘a pesar de su extensión, posee escaso prestigio en el español actual’. However, es un dato a tener en cuenta ‘it is a point to be borne in mind’ appears in the Academy’s own GDLE, p.1785. The construction with a is more widely accepted in Latin America; cf. los uniformados presentaron hace poco un nuevo texto a ser considerado (Abc Color, Par.) ‘the military recently presented a new text for consideration’.

23 Participles The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • •

Main uses of the past participle – hablado, vivido, hecho, etc. (Section 23.1) Forms of regular and irregular past participles (Section 23.2) Past participles as adjectives (Section 23.3) Translating ‘(s)he was sitting’, ‘they were crouching’ etc. (Section 23.4) Participle clauses (e.g. ‘the meeting having ended, they left’) (Section 23.5) Adjectival or present participles ending in -ante, – (i)ente, e.g. inquietante ‘worrying’, convincente,’convincing’, perteneciente ‘belonging’ (Section 23.6)

23.1 Past participles: general Past participles – hablado, vivido, dicho, hecho, etc.– have several uses: (a) they are used with haber to form the compound tenses of verbs: ha hablado ‘(s)he has spoken’, yo la había visto ‘I had seen her’. See Chapter 18. (b) They are occasionally used with tener or llevar to emphasize the idea of acquiring or accumulating things or actions, as in tengo compradas las entradas ‘I’ve bought the entrance tickets’, llevo tomados tres somníferos ‘I’ve taken three sleeping tablets’. See 18.1.3 for discussion. (c) They are used to form the passive: fue impreso/a ‘it was printed’, fueron observados/observadas ‘they were observed’. The passive is discussed in Chapter 32. (d) They can function as adjectives: see 23.3.

23.2 Past participles: forms 23.2.1 Regular and irregular past participles The past participle is formed in most cases by replacing the -ar of an infinitive by -ado, and -er and -ir by -ido: hablar/hablado, tener/tenido, construir/construido (no accent!), ir/ido, ser/sido, etc. There are a few common irregular forms: abrir: abierto (and entreabrir) absolver (and all verbs ending in -solver): absuelto cubrir (and all verbs ending in -cubrir): cubierto *decir (and all verbs ending in -decir*): dicho escribir (and all verbs ending in -scribir): escrito satisfacer and other verbs ending in -facer: satisfecho *See the next list for maldecir.

freír: frito (see note 2) hacer: hecho (also deshacer, contrahacer, etc.) imprimir: impreso (see note 2) morir: muerto (see note 1) poner (and all verbs ending in -poner): puesto romper: roto ver (and compounds like prever): visto volver (and all verbs ending in -volver): vuelto

304 Participles A few verbs have separate adjectival and verbal participles, cf. está despierto porque lo/le he despertado ‘he’s awake because I’ve woken him’, ahora que han soltado a los animales andan sueltos ‘now they’ve released the animals they’re wandering around free’, el agua que ha bendecido un cura se llama agua bendita ‘the water that a priest has blessed is called Holy Water’. In the following list the verbal participle is shown first: absorber: absorbido/absorto absorbed bendecir: bendecido/bendito blessed confesar: confesado/confeso confessed confundir: confundido/confuso confused despertar: despertado/despierto woken up elegir: elegido/electo elected

maldecir: maldecido/maldito cursed prender: prendido/preso. See note 3 proveer: proveído/provisto equipped with soltar: soltado/suelto released suspender: suspendido/suspenso failed (e.g.  exams)/hanging

(1)  Muerto is often used in literary styles as the passive past participle of matar ‘to kill’ when applied to human beings: con el tiempo sería muerto por la Gestapo (ES, Arg., interview; ordinary language sería matado/lo mataría) ‘he was later to be killed by the Gestapo’, but unos bandidos habían matado a su padre ‘some bandits had killed his father’. (2)  Freído and imprimido are still heard as verbal participles of freír ‘to fry’ and imprimir ‘to print’. Frito, impreso are usual nowadays and the Academy accepts both. (3)  Prender has numerous meanings, e.g. ‘to capture/detain’, ‘to pin on’, ‘catch fire’ and, in Latin America, ‘to switch on’ lights, etc., Spain encender.

23.2.2  Irregular past participles in Latin America A number of irregular adjectival participles are widely used in Latin America. These forms are either obsolete in Spain or are used only in set phrases, e.g. el presidente electo ‘the president elect’, but they are used in Latin America – especially in Argentina – not only as adjectives but also to form passives, e.g. resultó electo candidato a la presidencia (AM, Mex.) ‘he was elected as presidential candidate’, Spain salió elegido. In the following list the standard form appears first: convencer: convencido/convicto convinced corromper: corrompido/corrupto corrupt describir: descrito/descripto described

dividir: dividido/diviso divided inscribir/inscrito/inscripto registered/enrolled prescribir: prescrito/prescripto prescribed

Ocurre en las regiones antárticas descriptas It happens in the Antarctic regions   con extraordinaria vividez . . . (JLB, Arg.,   described with extraordinary vividness . . .  Sp. descritas) Incluye todos los shampoos prescriptos por It includes all the shampoos prescribed  médicos (Gente, Arg., Sp. recetados/   by doctors   prescritos, champús) El autor de los disparos estaba inscripto al The person who fired the shots was enrolled curso (La Jornada, Mex. Sp. inscrito en . . .)   on the course . . . escritores que fueron conservadores . . . writers who were convinced conservatives   convictos (MVLl, Pe., Sp. Convencidos.   Convicto = ‘convicted’ in Spain) (1)  Latin Americans may reject the use of the regular participles in such sentences, but the usual forms are quite common everywhere, especially in finite past tenses: ella no había elegido al jefe del Ejército (MSQ, Arg.) ‘she hadn’t chosen the head of the Army’, los políticos no están convencidos de esta “verdad profunda” (ibid.) ‘the politicians are not convinced of this “profound truth”’. (2)  Both una sociedad corrompida and una sociedad corrupta ‘a corrupt society’ are heard in Spain. Corrupto is usual in Latin America.

23.4 ‘She was sitting on the couch’, etc.


23.2.3  Object pronouns and participles For the now obsolete construction había comprado la casa y pintádola for había comprado la casa y la había pintado ‘he had bought the house and painted it’, see 14.3.7 note 2.

23.3  Past participles as adjectives 23.3.1  Adjectival participles When they are used as adjectives, past participles agree in number and gender like any adjective: una exagerada reacción ‘an exaggerated reaction’, la gestación subrogada ‘surrogate pregnancy’, huevos revueltos ‘scrambled eggs’, etc. These adjectival past participles can sometimes be converted into nouns by the use of a determiner (see Glossary): un muerto ‘a dead person’, ese herido ‘that wounded person’, ¿qué dirán por su parte los censurados? ‘what will those who have been censured have to say for themselves?’, varios condenados ‘several condemned persons’. Such forms provide neat translations of English relative clauses: nunca olvidaremos a los desaparecidos ‘we’ll never forget those who disappeared’, ¿dónde están los recién llegados? ‘where are the ones who’ve just arrived?’

23.3.2 Unexpected meaning of some past participles and some ­adjectives ending in -do Some adjective and participles ending in -do confuse foreign learners since they seem to have two meanings, the first adjectival and the second as a verbal participle. Reducido is notorious: una cantidad reducida is ‘a small quantity’, not a ‘reduced’ quantity, but la cantidad ha sido reducida is ‘the quantity has been reduced’. Other examples are acusado ‘clearly visible’ or ‘accused’, ajustado ‘tight’ or ‘adjusted’, alargado ‘long’ or ‘lengthened’, alejado ‘remote’ or ‘distanced’, aprovechado ‘opportunistic’ or ‘made use of’, cuidado ‘careful’/‘pains­taking’ or ‘looked after’, elevado ‘high’ (e.g. number/quantity) or ‘raised’, honrado ‘honest’ or ‘honoured’, recogido ‘timid’ or ‘picked up’, retirado ‘remote’ or ‘withdrawn’/‘retired’. (1)  The NGLE 27.10g notes regional survivals on both continents of older participle forms, e.g. pago ‘paid’, calmo ‘calm(ed), canso ‘tired’, nublo ‘cloudy’, pinto ‘painted’, quito ‘removed’, nowadays replaced by pagado, calmado, cansado, nublado, pintado, quitado. These forms are found in preeighteenth-century literature.

23.4  ‘She was sitting on the couch’, etc. Important: English-speakers constantly wrongly translate such sentences by using a Spanish gerund when a participle is needed: estaba sentada en el sofá ‘she was sitting (i.e. ‘seated’) on the couch’, los jóvenes sentados en posición de flor loto (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘the young folk sitting in the lotus position’, estoy levantado, no arrodillado ‘I’m standing, not kneeling’, estaba apoyado contra la pared ‘he/I was leaning against the wall’, el gato estaba escondido debajo de la mesa ‘the cat was hiding under the table’, la abuela está acostada porque le duele la cabeza ‘grandma is lying down because she’s got a headache’, estábamos agachados ‘we were crouching’. Use of the gerund in such sentences creates a wholly different meaning: la abuela se está acostando means ‘grandma is going to bed’, i.e. is preparing herself for bed. In other words, the participle describes the position or posture someone or something is in, and the gerund describes an action in progress.

306 Participles

23.5  Participle clauses Participle clauses (see Glossary) are common. They often have exact English counterparts, but there are slight differences between the two languages (see also 35.3.4 for sentences like aceptó irritada ‘she accepted irritably’): Me fui, convencido de que él no sabía nada I left, convinced he knew nothing José González, nacido el 23 de marzo José González, born on 23 March   su padre, muerto en 1956 . . .   his father, who died in 1956 . . . . . . preguntado qué le había gustado de ella, . . . asked what he had liked about her, he   contesta con un gruñido (GGM, Col.)   replies with a grunt Spanish allows certain participle clauses, more often in written language, that have no exact equivalents in English: . . . refugiados y migrantes llegados a Europa . . . refugees and immigrants having arrived   desde el año pasado (La Jornada, Mex.)   in Europe since last year Concluidas las primeras investigaciones, The initial investigations having been   la policía abandonó el lugar de autos   concluded, the police left the crime scene . . . por fin, transcurridos siete años desde . . . at last, seven years having passed since   la publicación de su primera novela . . .   the publication of his/her first novel . . . Terminada la conferencia nos fuimos When the lecture was over, we left Después de vendida la casa, nos Once the house was sold, we regretted it   arrepentimos (from Seco, 1998, 334) Arrasado el jardín, profanados los cálices y Having demolished the garden and   las aras, entraron a caballo los hunos en   profaned chalices and altars, the   la biblioteca monástica (JLB, Arg. Very   Huns rode into the monastery library  literary) (1)  Llegar seems to be the only unmodified verb of motion that allows this construction. One cannot say *entrada en el agua se puso a nadar ‘having entered the water she began to swim’: cuando entró en el agua se puso a nadar, or *bajados del tren for cuando bajaron del tren ‘when they got out of the train’. But a few other verbs allow it if they are modified by an adverb: recién bajados del tren ‘having just got out of the train’, ya entrado el día . . . ‘once the day had begun’, bien entrada la noche. . . ‘well after nightfall . . .’.

23.6  Participles ending in -ante, -iente or -ente These are adjectival present participles. They may be formed from many verbs but by no means from all and they function like the English adjectival forms ending in -ing: ‘Sleeping Beauty’ = La Bella Durmiente. New coinages appear constantly, many of them inspired by English adjectives ending in -ing. They are formed as follows: • -ar conjugation: replace the -ar of the infinitive by -ante: alarmar > alarmante ‘alarming’ inquie­ tar > inquietante ‘worrying’; • -er and -ir conjugations: replace the -er or –ir of the infinitive by -iente or by -ente, the choice being unpredictable.

23.6  Participles ending in -ante, -iente or -ente


Examples: alucinar: alucinante astounding/amazing concernir: concerniente concerning conducir: conducente leading to convenir conveniente suitable crecer: creciente growing deprimir: deprimente depressing entrar: entrante incoming existir: existente existing fluir: fluyente flowing ocurrir: ocurrente witty

pertenecer: perteneciente belonging to proceder: procedente proceeding producir: producente producing  (also contraproducente counter-productive) provenir: proveniente de coming from restar: restante: remaining salir: saliente outgoing sorprender: sorprendente surprising tender: tendente (a) tending (to) vincular: vinculante binding

There are a few slightly irregular forms: convencer: convincente convincing dormir: durmiente sleeping herir: hiriente wounding

reír: riente laughing seguir: siguiente following sonreír: sonriente smiling

These participle forms should be learned separately from the dictionary, especially in view of the remark in note 2. They are quite often used, especially in the media: una situación cambiante/estresante a changing/stressful situation el ministro saliente/entrante the outgoing/incoming minister condiciones vinculantes binding conditions resultados sobresalientes outstanding results el millón y medio restante the remaining 1.5 million 157.000 personas, pertenecientes a diferentes 157,000 people, belonging to various   clases sociales y procedentes de lugares   social classes and originating from   muy distintos de nacimiento . . . (El País, Sp.)   widely different places of birth El gran impacto que tuvieron en un escenario The great impact they had on an   internacional resulta desconcertante,   international stage is disconcerting,   alentador y excitante (La Jornada, Mex.)   encouraging and exciting (1)  Important: the gerund in -ando or -iendo could not be used instead of the -nte form in any of these examples. See 24.3 for discussion. (2)  Important: one cannot predict which verbs have this kind of participle and foreign l­earners often invent non-existent words like *moviente for ‘moving’: piezas movibles = ‘moving parts’, espectáculo conmovedor = ‘moving spectacle’. Note also mesa plegable ‘folding table’, agua potable ‘drinking water’, confiado/crédulo = ‘trusting’, planta trepadora = ‘climbing plant’, resultados satisfactorios ‘satisfying results’, hechos reveladores ‘revealing facts’, un libro aburrido ‘a boring book’, es cansado ‘it’s/he’s tiring’, and many others. (3)  Many forms in -nte are not strictly speaking participles but ordinary adjectives, e.g. brillante ‘shining’, corriente ‘current’/‘ordinary’, aparente ‘apparent’, reciente ‘recent’, etc. (4)  These participles do not normally have a separate feminine form: la presidenta saliente ‘the outgoing (female) president’. There are a few colloquial or popular exceptions, e.g. dominanta ‘bossy’ (a woman, more usually dominante), currante-curranta familiar European Spanish for ‘hard-working’; currante can also be used for females. Atorrante-atorranta (Lat. Am.) ‘slacker’/‘layabout’ is also heard. However, a few nouns in -nte make their feminine with -nta. See 1.2.5.

24 The gerund The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • •

Forms of the gerund (Section 24.2) Translating ‘a box containing books’, ‘a girl speaking French’ (Section 24.3) Main uses of the gerund (Section 24.4) ‘I imagined her dancing’, ‘I heard them talking’, etc. (Sections 24.6–7) Gerund with andar, ir, llevar, quedarse, salir, venir, acabar, terminar (Section 24.8) Translating the English –ing form (Section 24.9)

The gerund is the verb form that ends in -ando or -(i)endo: andando, respondiendo, diciendo, riñendo, etc. For the use of the gerund to form the continuous aspect of verbs, e.g. estoy hablando ‘I’m talking’, estaba escribiendo ‘(s)he was writing’, etc. See Chapter 19.

24.1 General The gerund is invariable in form but pronouns are sometimes attached to it. This may be obligatory, as in contestó riéndose ‘(s)he replied (by) laughing’, or optional as in estaban esperándolos or los estaban esperando ‘they were waiting for them’. Object pronouns never appear directly before a gerund: **los esperando is not possible for esperándolos ‘waiting for them’. See 14.3.6 for details on the use and position of pronouns with gerunds. The Spanish gerund is quite unlike the English -ing form (‘walking’, ‘replying’, ‘saying’, etc.), which can function as a gerund, a present participle, a noun or an adjective. It is also unlike the French form ending in -ant, which covers the functions of both the Spanish gerund and the adjectival form ending in -ante, -(i)ente discussed at 23.6. The Spanish gerund is a kind of adverb and it therefore should theoretically not modify nouns. See 24.3 for discussion. The NGLE 27.7q notes the increasing use of the gerund on both continents, especially in book and film titles, e.g. Bailando con lobos ‘Dances with Wolves’, Cantando bajo la lluvia ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. See 19.1.1 for more on this subject. Important: except in one archaic construction described at 24.5, the Spanish gerund is never preceded by a preposition, so *estoy harto de diciéndolo is not Spanish for estoy harto de decirlo ‘I’m tired of saying it’. Nor can the gerund ever be used as a noun: *fumando daña los pulmones is absolutely wrong for (el) fumar daña los pulmones ‘smoking damages the lungs’.

24.2 Forms of the gerund (a) All verbs of the -ar conjugation, including radical-changing verbs: replace the -ar of the infinitive by -ando: hablar ‘to speak’ hablando, dar ‘to give’ dando. (b) Verbs of the -er and -ir conjugations: replace the infinitive ending with -iendo: temer ‘to fear’ temiendo, vivir ‘to live’ viviendo, producir ‘to produce’ produciendo.

24.3  ‘A box containing books’ ‘ a girl speaking French’, etc.


Irregular verbs form the gerund in the same way: ser – siendo, tener – teniendo. Exceptions – not all of them truly ‘irregular’: decir and its compounds: diciendo dormir, morir: durmiendo, muriendo ir: yendo (regular, despite appearances) oír and its compounds: oyendo (regular) verbs like pedir, elegir: pidiendo, eligiendo,  riñendo, hiriendo, irguiéndose

poder: pudiendo verbs like reír: riendo, sonriendo verbs like sentir: sintiendo, hirviendo,  mintiendo venir and its compounds: viniendo

(1)  Verbs whose infinitive ends in -uir, -eer, -aer or -oer obey the spelling rule shown at 16.11.13, e.g. construir – construyendo, huir – huyendo, poseer – poseyendo, creer – creyendo, traer – trayendo, caer – cayendo, roer – royendo, etc. (2)  Verbs whose infinitive ends in -ñer, -ñir or -llir obey the spelling rule shown at 16.4.10, e.g. tañer – tañendo, ceñir – ciñendo (conjugated like pedir), bullir – bullendo, etc.

24.3  ‘A box containing books’ ‘a girl speaking French’, etc. English and French can avoid relative clauses by using the -ing or the -ant form of the verb: We need a girl who speaks French We need a girl speaking French He had a box that contained several books He had a box containing several books Vous cherchez un médecin qui parle votre Vous cherchez un médecin parlant votre   langue? (‘Are you looking for a doctor   langue?   who speaks your language?’) Since the Spanish gerund can, strictly speaking, modify only verbs and not nouns, such sentences must usually be translated by a relative clause: Necesitamos una chica que hable francés We need a girl who speaks French   (not *hablando francés) Tenían una caja que contenía varios libros They had a box containing several books   (not *conteniendo varios libros) ¿Busca usted un médico que hable su lengua? Are you looking for a doctor who speaks   your language? In careful Spanish, the gerund is usually possible only when there is a verb in the main clause to which it can refer, e.g. me escribió pidiéndome que fuera/fuese a verla ‘(s)he wrote a letter asking me to go and see her’. But this rule is broken: (a)  In captions to pictures: Dos cazas siendo preparados para el despegue El Avante publicó mi foto quitándome los   aretes (AM, Mex., dialogue. Aretes =   los pendientes in Spain)

Two fighter aircraft being readied for take-off Avante published a photo of me taking   off my earrings

(b)  After nouns that are the objects of verbs meaning ‘hear’, ‘imagine’, ‘see’, ‘find’, usually to show that the action is actually in progress. See 24.6–7 for more details; (c)  in the exceptional cases of the adjectives ardiendo ‘burning’ and hirviendo ‘boiling’. See 5.3 for discussion; (d)  with the preposition con: volvió en sí con el brazo sangrando ‘(s)he came round with his/her arm bleeding’, salimos del bar con la cabeza dando vueltas ‘we left the bar with our heads spinning’;

310 The gerund (e)  in official and administrative documents: una ley decretando . . . (= una ley por la que se decreta ‘a law decreeing . . .’. This construction, sometimes called the gerundio curialense or ‘lawyers’ gerund’, is entrenched in certain documents, e.g. the Boletín Oficial del Estado (where Spanish laws are published), but Seco (1998, 228) condemns it, as does the NGLE 27.7a and the stylebook of El País; (f)  occasionally by writers whose style is presumably above reproach, as in el propósito de Probo, el hombre solo afrontando a la multitud, no se pudo realizar (Seco, 1998, xvii) ‘it was not possible to realize the goal of Probus, the man alone confronting the multitude’, despite his condemnation of this very construction (ibid., p. 228); (g)  constantly in spontaneous speech and informal writing: . . . luego ya en mi habitación, recién limpia y . . . then back in my room, (which was)   oliendo a ambientador de flores (CMG, Sp.)   recently cleaned and smelling of   flower-scented air-freshener Tenía mi edad y un hijo viviendo con su mamá She was my age and had a son living   (AM, Mex., dialogue)   with his mother el tenue ruido de un cuerpo moviéndose the faint sound of a body moving stealthily   con sigilo (LS, Ch.) . . . con la luna ahí colgando para nosotros . . . with the moon hanging there for us   (ABE, Pe.) Se aseguraron mil 803 paquetes conteniendo 1803 packages containing a green, dry   un vegetal verde y seco al parecer   vegetable substance, apparently   mariguana (La Jornada, Mex. Marihuana   marihuana, were recovered   in other countries) Hombres trabajando a 400m Men working at 400 metres   (Mexican road sign) (1)  Foreign learners should probably imitate only the possibilities listed at (a), (b), (c) and (d). However, the grammarians’ complaints about (e), (f) and (g) seem excessive since these constructions are clearly sometimes acceptable to careful native speakers. (2)  The NGLE 27.7l notes that misuse of conteniendo in phrases like una caja conteniendo libros is spreading, but does not approve of it. (3)  The participle form ending in -nte may sometimes be used like the English -ing form: una tumba más amplia perteneciente a Nefertiti (La Jornada, Mex.) ‘a larger tomb belonging to Nefertiti’. This construction, typical of newspapers, is possible only with a limited number of verbs. It is discussed at 23.6. (4)  For the use of the gerund after hay see 24.6d. (5)  French allows the -ant form to refer to a subject different from that of the main clause: la pluie tombant à verse, le voyageur s’arrêta sous un hangar. The gerund cannot be used here: ya que llovía a cántaros, el viajero se detuvo bajo un granero, ‘since it was pouring with rain, the traveller stopped under a barn’ (not *lloviendo a cántaros . . .).

24.4  Main uses of the gerund to modify the main verb inthe sentence 24.4.1  Gerund used to indicate simultaneous actions The gerund is used to indicate an action happening at the same time – or almost the same time–asthe action of the main verb:

24.4  Main uses of the gerund to modify the main verb inthe sentence


Se fue gritando (S)he went off shouting Nos recibió bañándose She received us while having a bath Me bajé del caballo queriendo un zumo I got down from my horse as I wanted   de naranja (AM, Mex.)   (lit. ‘wanting’) an orange juice Un día, caminando por la playa, tuvo una idea One day, while walking along the beach,   (s)he had an idea —Aquí tiene mi tarjeta, dijo Félix ‘Here’s my card,’ Felix said, handing it to the   entregándosela al chofer (CF, Mex.,   driver’   in Spain chofer = chófer) (1)  Important: the actions of the gerund and of the main verb should be simultaneous or almost simultaneous. ?El ladrón huyó volviendo horas más tarde ‘the thief fled, returning hours later’ should be el ladrón huyó y volvió horas más tarde. ?Abriendo la puerta, entró en la casa (for abrió la puerta y entró en la casa) is less acceptable in Spanish than ‘opening the door, (s)he entered the house’: the Academy’s NGLE 27.4g considers it is incorrect. However – and rather arbitrarily – salió de casa dando un portazo ‘(s)he left the house slamming the door’ is acceptable since it is considered to be almost simultaneous. (2) Important: the Spanish gerund should also not be used to describe an action that is the result of a previous action: one says el edificio se hundió y mató a varias personas not ? . . . se hundió matando a varias personas ‘the building collapsed killing several people’, although this rule is constantly broken in the media. (3)  With the verbs ser and estar the gerund can translate ‘when’ or ‘while’, a construction strange to English-speakers: estando en París, me enteré de que Rafael se había casado ‘while I was in Paris, I found out that Rafael had got married’, lo/le conocí siendo yo bombero ‘I met him while I was a fireman’, te lo diré, pero no estando aquí esta señora ‘I’ll tell you, but not while this lady is here’, y menos todavía estando los dos a solas (ES, Mex.) ‘and even less when the two of them were/are on their own’. Note the position of a personal pronoun with the gerund: estoy dispuesto a hablar de ello, pero no estando ustedes presentes ‘I’m prepared to talk about it, but not with you (plural) present’.

24.4.2  Gerund used to indicate method The gerund may indicate the method by which an action is performed. English usually requires the preposition ‘by’: Hicieron su fortuna comprando acciones They made their fortune (by) buying   a tiempo   shares at the right time Hacéis divinamente no teniendo niños You’re doing just the absolutely right thing   (AG, Sp., dialogue)    by not having children Estás obligado a escribir otra novela. No You’re obliged to write another novel. I’ve   publicando esta/ésta te he hecho un favor   done you a favour by not publishing this one   (MVM, Sp., dialogue) . . . como si supiera la verdad y no quisiera . . . as if he knew the truth and didn’t want   ofenderlo diciéndosela (CF, Mex.)   to offend him by telling it to him (1) This construction often expresses a condition: apretándolo/si lo aprietas de ese modo lo vas a romper ‘you’ll break it if you squeeze it/by squeezing it like that’, poniéndose/si se pone así conmigo usted no conseguirá nada ‘you’ll get nowhere if you get like that with me’. (2) The NGLE 27.1i notes that the gerund can alternate with the infinitive after manera, forma, modo and similar words: it quotes la única manera de abrirlo es cambiando/cambiar este taladro por otro ‘the only way of opening it is by swapping this drill for another’.

312 The gerund

24.4.3  Gerund used to express purpose (= para + infinitive) This construction occurs with verbs of communication: Me escribió diciéndome/para decirme que fuera/ (S)he wrote telling me to come and   fuese a verle   see him Nos llamó pidiendo/para pedir ayuda (S)he rang us asking/to ask for help Recibí una llamada . . . diciéndome que I got a call telling me he was in   estaba en la caseta de cobro de la autopista   the toll booth on the motorway/  (AH, Mex.)  turnpike

24.4.4 Gerund used to indicate cause (= ya que . . ., puesto que . . . + finite verb) Siendo estudiante, tendrá usted derecho a Since you’re a student, you’ll be entitled to   una beca   a grant Siendo gobernador del Estado de México, Since/While he was governor of the state of   fue uno de los dos principales clientes del   Mexico he was one of the main clients of the   Centro Fox (AH, Mex.)   Fox Centre Tratándose de usted, no faltaba más Since it’s you, there’s no need to mention it No queriendo molestar me fui Not wanting to be a nuisance, I left Un día, no teniendo nada que hacer, fue a verla One day, not having anything to do,     (s)he went to see her

24.4.5  Gerund used to express concession (= aunque + finite verb) The Spanish gerund occasionally signifies ‘although’, often in combination with aun ‘even’: Siendo inteligente como es, a veces parece tonto Although intelligent, he sometimes seems   stupid Llegando tarde y todo, nos ayudó mucho Although (s)he arrived late, (s)he helped us a lot Es probable que este servicio no se ofrezca en It is probable that this service is not available   su provincia o que, aun existiendo, no se   in your province or, even if it exists (‘even   haya anunciado (Yellow Pages, Sp.)   existing’) it has not been advertised . . . incluidos aquellos que, siendo soldados, . . . including those who, even though they are   se entreguen sin combatir a nuestras fuerzas   enemy soldiers, surrender to our forces   (JV, Mex.)   without fighting

24.4.6  Gerund preceded by como as an equivalent of como si Me miró como calculando mi edad She looked at me as though   (SP, Sp., = como si estuviera calculando)   calculating my age Si un perro tiene un problema que no puede If a dog has a problem it can’t solve it turns  resolver, voltea a ver al humano como   to look at the human as if asking for   pidiendo cooperación o ayuda   cooperation or help  (Excélsior, Mex. Voltear = volverse in Spain)

24.5  En + gerund In older language and in some dialects, especially in Latin America, this is an equivalent of al + infinitive: en llegando al bosque = al llegar al bosque ‘on arriving at the woods’ (cf. French en

24.7  Gerund after verbs of perception (‘see’, ‘hear’, etc.)


arrivant à). This construction is extinct in standard modern Spanish. Al + infinitive is discussed at 22.3.3. The use of en + the gerund to indicate conditions, as in en sabiendo que están bien y contentos, ya tengo bastante ‘as long as I know they’re well and happy, that’s enough for me’ is mentioned in GDLE 10.8.5, but it also seems to be virtually extinct in modern Spanish.

24.6  Gerund used to qualify the object of a verb Like the English -ing form, the Spanish gerund can also indicate an action performed by the direct object of certain kinds of verb: (a)  With verbs of perception like ‘see’, ‘hear’, ‘observe’: see 24.7 for details. (b)  With verbs like coger, pillar ‘to catch’, arrestar ‘to arrest’, dejar ‘to leave’, descubrir ‘to discover’, encontrar/hallar ‘to find’, sorprender ‘to surprise’, pescar ‘to catch by surprise’: Lo/Le cogí/pillé robando I caught him stealing Me sorprendí repitiendo entre dientes. . . I caught myself repeating between my   (CMG, Sp.)   teeth . . . (i.e. ‘muttering’) Dejamos a Andrés durmiendo We left Andrés sleeping   (AM, Mex., dialogue) (c)  With verbs of representation like ‘paint’, ‘draw’, ‘photograph’, ‘show’, ‘describe’, ‘imagine’, ‘represent’, etc.: La pinté tocando el clavicémbalo I painted her playing the harpsichord Esta fotografía muestra al rey bajando del avión This photo shows the King getting out of     the plane Los imaginaba caminando por la playa He pictured them walking along the beach   cargados de armas (EM, Mex.)   loaded with guns Captions under photos or other pictures fall into this category. See 24.3a above. (d)  With haber: había más de cien personas haciendo cola ‘there were more than a hundred people queuing/standing in line’, no hay nadie esperando ‘there’s no one waiting’. Note that, unlike English, this construction does not allow the definite article. One can say mira, hay un niño jugando ‘look, there’s a child playing’, but not *mira, hay el niño jugando ‘look, there’s the child, playing’: mira, ahí está el niño jugando.

24.7  Gerund after verbs of perception (‘see’, ‘hear’, etc.) Commonly after the verb ver ‘to see’, and occasionally after oír ‘to hear’, recordar ‘to remember’, olvidar ‘to forget’ and sentir ‘to feel’/‘to hear’, the gerund may be used to qualify the objectof the main verb, as in abrimos el periódico y vemos a niños muriéndose de hambre (El País, Sp.) ‘we open newspapers and see children dying of hunger’. Usually the infinitive is also possible in this construction, the difference being that the infinitive indicates a completed action and the gerund an action that is or was still in progress. Compare la vi fumando un cigarrillo ‘I saw her (while she was) smoking a cigarette’ and la vi fumar un cigarrillo ‘I saw her smoke a cigarette’ (see 22.2.4 for the infinitive). There is usually a colloquial alternative to the gerund using que + a finite verb: la vi que fumaba un cigarrillo ‘I saw that she was smoking a cigarette’. Further examples:

314 The gerund No se me olvida mi hijo bailando con ella I can’t forget my son dancing with her Me gustaba sentir la lluvia azotando los I liked to hear the rain lashing the   avellanos de la huerta (CMG, Sp.)   hazelnut trees in the garden Cuando Félix divisó al doctor leyendo una When Felix caught sight of the doctor   revista política . . . (CF, Mex.)   reading a political magazine . . . Por eso los recuerdo siempre bebiendo That’s why I remember them always   (ABE, Pe., dialogue)   drinking (1) With ir and venir the gerund is not usual: ‘I saw him coming towards me’ is lo/le vi venir hacia mí or lo/le vi que venía hacia mí but not *lo/le vi viniendo hacia mí. (2)  Oír ‘hear’ may take a gerund, as in desde allí oíamos al niño jugando en su cuarto ‘from there we could hear the child playing in his/her room’, but it appears more often with either the i­ nfinitive or with que and a finite verb: oí entrar a alguien/oí que alguien entraba ‘I heard someone come in’; see22.2.4 for examples. The infinitive is safest for foreigners, since a gerund could be taken to refer to the subject of the main verb, e.g. ?la vi entrando could mean ‘I saw her while I was entering’. However, the gerund is common when its subject is non-living: cuando el sargento oye la corneta tocando la retirada (MVLl, Pe.) ‘when the sergeant hears the trumpet sounding the retreat’, . . . la voz del propio comandante saludando por la megafonía (MT, Sp.) ‘. . . the voice of the commandant himself greeting us over the public-address system’. (3)  Nouns that mean the same thing as this sort of verb can also be followed by a gerund, e.g. un ruido de lluvia cayendo sobre hojas secas ‘a sound of rain falling on dry leaves’, el eco de una voz gritando ‘the echo of a voice shouting’, una descripción de una jirafa sentándose ‘a description of a giraffe sitting down’.

24.8  Other uses of the gerund 24.8.1  Gerund with andar This translates the English ‘to go around doing something’ often with the same implication of pointless activity, or it suggests frequent activity, e.g. ‘keeps on doing . . .’. Ir can often replace andar in this construction, but andar tends to imply intermittent activity: Siempre anda/va buscando camorra (S)he always goes round looking for trouble Era profesor de geografía, y siempre He was a geography teacher, and was always   anduvo solicitando traslados   applying for transfers (to other schools)   (CMG,  Sp.) Anduve maldiciendo todo el jueves All day Thursday I went around swearing   (AM, Mex., dialogue) Anda escribiendo una novela (S)he’s writing a novel on and off  (from NGLE 28.14a) (1)  Spoken, but not formal Mexican, often uses andar for estar to form the continuous: ¿andas trabajando? (for ¿estás trabajando?) ‘are you working?’, a lo mejor se andaba despidiendo (EM, Mex., dialogue) ‘maybe he was saying goodbye’ (despedirse ‘to say goodbye’), see 19.5. (2)  The idea of repetitive activity is sometimes expressed colloquially by vivir + gerund in colloquial Latin American Spanish: mi esposa me vive repitiendo que no me ama (forum, Mex.) ‘my wife keeps on telling me she doesn’t love me’, me vivía diciendo ‘te amo’ y ahora no la voy a escuchar nunca más (interview, Diario La Provincia, Arg. Sp. vivía diciendo) ‘she kept telling me “I love you” and now I’m not going to listen to her ever again’.

24.8  Other uses of the gerund


24.8.2  Gerund with ir (a)  Expresses slow, painstaking or gradual action: Nos vamos haciendo más sabios We’re (gradually) getting wiser Ella se fue doblando hasta caer al suelo She gradually doubled up until she fell   to the ground Así ha ido perdiendo todos los clientes, That’s how he’s been losing all his clients,   por estar pensando en otra cosa (MP, Arg.)   through thinking about other things . . . los libros que fui leyendo después (SG, Mex.) . . . the books I went on to read later Gano lo necesario para ir tirando I earn enough to get by (1)  Spoken Mexican Spanish also uses this construction to express an action that is just finishing (examples from J.M. Lope Blanch, 1991, 16): espera un momento; voy acabando ya (Sp. estoy acabando ya/estoy a punto de acabar) ‘wait a moment, I’m just finishing’, voy llegando ahorita (Sp. acabo de llegar) ‘I’ve only just arrived’. See also 24.8.6 note 1 for a similar construction with venir. The NGLE 28.13f notes that in Mexico and Central America this construction can also be a near equivalent of casi/por poco: me iba dejando el avión = casi me deja el avión ‘the plane nearly left me behind’. This is not heard in Spain. (b)  To express the idea of ‘getting on with’ something: Ya es hora de ir terminando esto It’s time we got on with finishing this Ya puedes ir preparando todo para You can start getting things ready for when   cuando lleguen   they arrive Ve escribiendo todo lo que te dicte Write down everything as I dictate it to you

24.8.3  Gerund with llevar This provides a neat translation of ‘for’ a specific time period as in llevo dos meses pintando esta casa ‘I’ve been painting this house for two months’. In Latin America llevar in this construction may be optionally replaced by tener. For details see 36.3.1.

24.8.4  Gerund with quedarse This translates the idea of ‘to continue to do something’: Me quedé ayudándolos un rato Me quedé meditándolo durante algunos momentos (JV, Mex., dialogue) Yo me le quedé mirando . . . (JH, Mex., dialogue)

I stayed on for a while to help them I spent a few minutes thinking it over I remained/went on looking at him

24.8.5  Gerund with seguir and continuar Seguir and continuar with the gerund translate ‘to go on . . . -ing’, ‘to continue to . . .’, as in Ruso ‘revive’ en la morgue y corre a continuar bebiendo vodka (Excélsior, Mex.) ‘Russian “comes back to life” in morgue and runs off to carry on drinking vodka’. See 36.8 for further remarks.

24.8.6  Gerund with venir To express an action that accumulates or increases with time. It sometimes conveys mounting exasperation:

316 The gerund Hace años que viene diciendo lo mismo (S)he’s been saying the same thing for years los programas que se vienen ejecutando the program(me)s that have been carried out   en el campo de la cardiología infantil   (up to now) in the field of child cardiology   (Granma, Cu.) El plan de invasión venía siendo desarrollado The invasion plan had been in preparation   desde 1967   since 1967 Hay muchísimo interés en lo que en There is a great deal of interest in what at   este momento viene siendo algo que sin   this moment is becoming something that   duda tiene alta rentabilidad   is without doubt highly profitable  (El Universal, Mex.) (1)  The following construction is heard in Mexico and Central America: ¿Qué, no lo viste? Ah, claro: tú vienes llegando apenas (Sp. apenas acabas de llegar) ‘What? Didn’t you see it? Oh, of course, you’ve only just arrived’ (from J.M. Lope Blanch, 1991, 17), venía llegando, escuché y entré corriendo para ver a mi hija que estaba dormida (interview, El Universal, Mex.) ‘I’d just arrived, I listened and ran in to see my daughter who was asleep’. (2)  Venir siendo has the colloquial meaning ‘it happened that’, as in venía siendo amiga del obispo ‘she happened to be a friend of the bishop’. This is also used in Spain.

24.8.7  Gerund with acabar, terminar These verbs with the gerund mean ‘end by’: Siempre acaba riéndose (S)he always ends by laughing A este paso lo vas a acabar destruyendo At this rate you’ll eventually destroy it   (ES, Mex., dialogue) Acabarás haciendo lo que ella diga You’ll end by/up doing what she says . . . porque con el tiempo terminaríamos . . . because with time we were to end by not   no viéndonos nunca (ABE, Pe., dialogue)   seeing one another at all (1)  Acabar por + infinitive is an equivalent and is more common in negative statements: acabarás por no salir nunca de casa ‘you’ll end by/up never going out of the house’.

24.9  Translating the English -ing form The following examples consist mainly of cases where the English -ing form cannot be translated by the Spanish gerund.

24.9.1  When the -ing form is the subject of a verb This is normally translated by an infinitive or by a suitable noun: Eating too much butter is bad for the heart No smoking Skiing is expensive Salmon fishing is an art

Comer demasiada mantequilla es malo para   el corazón Prohibido fumar Esquiar/El esquí cuesta mucho La pesca del salmón es un arte

24.9.2  When the -ing form is the object of a verb In this case there are two possibilities:

24.9  Translating the English -ing form


(a)  When the same subject performs both actions, use an infinitive or a noun: (S)he dreads having to start Teme tener que empezar I like swimming Me gusta nadar/Me gusta la natación (S)he gave up gambling Dejó de jugar/Dejó el juego Try calling him Intenta llamarlo/le There’s nothing I like better than working No hay nada que me guste más que trabajar   in the garden   en el jardín (b)  When the actions are performed by different subjects, use a clause or noun. The subjunctive must be used when required by the rules given in Chapter 20: I can’t stand Pedro singing No aguanto que Pedro cante I didn’t mind him/her living here No me importaba que viviera/viviese aquí I recommended promoting her Recomendé su ascenso/que la ascendiesen/    ascendieran I approve of your getting up early Me parece bien que te levantes temprano Some verbs allow the gerund. See 24.6–7.

24.9.3  The -ing form used in a passive sense Care is needed when the English -ing form replaces a passive infinitive, cf. ‘your hair needs cutting’ (= ‘your hair needs to be cut’). In the Spanish translation an infinitive or a clause must be used: Your hair needs cutting This needs attending to You’re not worth listening to It wants/needs polishing

Tienes que cortarte el pelo Hace falta cuidar esto/Hay que atender a esto No vale la pena escucharte Hace falta/Hay que sacarle brillo

24.9.4  The -ing form preceded by prepositions Unless the preposition is ‘by’ (see 24.4.2) an infinitive or clause must be used: I’m looking forward to seeing you Tengo ganas de verte I prefer swimming to running Prefiero nadar a correr He was punished for being late Lo/Le castigaron por llegar tarde This is a good opportunity for Esta/Ésta es una buena oportunidad   showing what you mean   para demostrar lo que quieres decir You get nothing in life without working No se consigue nada en esta vida sin    trabajo/sin trabajar He was furious at being mistaken for Le enfurecía que lo/le confundieran/   his/her brother   confundiesen con su hermano

24.9.5  The -ing form before nouns (a)  If the -ing form is itself a noun, translation is usually by an infinitive or a noun: driving licence/US driving permit dancing shoes fishing rod

el carnet/el permiso de conducir los zapatos de baile la caña de pescar

318 The gerund (b)  If the -ing form is a participle (adjective) then a relative clause may be used, unless a participle in -ante or -(i)ente exists (see 23.6): the chiming bells las campanas que tañen/tañían (*tañente     does not exist) a worrying problem un problema inquietante a flying object un objeto volante/volador a convincing reply una respuesta convincente But often an idiomatic solution must be sought in either case: boiling point changing room conditioning cream dining room drinking water flying planes flying saucer riding boots sleeping bag steering wheel turning point walking boots

el punto de ebullición el vestuario la crema suavizante el comedor el agua potable aviones en vuelo el platillo volante las botas de montar el saco de dormir el volante el punto decisivo/la vuelta de la marea las botas de senderismo

For the exceptional use of hirviendo ‘boiling’ and ardiendo ‘burning’ as adjectives, see 5.3.

25 Auxiliary verbs The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • • •

Poder and saber (Section 25.2) Deber, deber de and tener que (Section 25.3) Ha debido/podido hacerlo or lo ha debido/podido hacer? (Section 25.3.5) Haber, haber de, haber que (Section 25.4) Querer (Section 25.5) Soler and acostumbrar (Section 25.6) Translating ‘would’, ‘shall’, ‘will’ ‘ought to’, and ‘got to’ (Section 25.7)

25.1 General Auxiliary verbs are verbs like poder, saber, deber, haber que, tener que, soler or ‘would’, ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘should’, ‘ought to’, ‘to have to’, that express various shades of meaning, usually when combined with an infinitive, as in podría llover ‘it may/might rain’, deberían hacerlo ‘they ought to do it’, tengo que trabajar ‘I’ve got to work’.

25.2 Poder and saber ‘to be able to’/‘to know how to’ 25.2.1 Poder and saber contrasted Both verbs often translate ‘can’ or ‘could’, but their meanings are slightly different: saber, as well as ‘to know’, means ‘to know how to do something’, and poder means ‘to be able to do something’/‘to be allowed to do something’. Sometimes the meanings overlap: ¿Sabes nadar? ¿Puedes nadar hoy? Nunca podía salir con sus amigas Soy libre. Puedo hacer lo que quiero La importancia de saber comer es mucha (La Jornada, Mex.) Julia se sabe ganar/sabe ganarse las simpatías de todo el mundo Lo único que sabía hacer era trabajar honradamente (CORPES, CR) Nunca había podido descifrarlo/nunca podrá descifrarlo

Can you swim? (do you know how to?) Can you swim today? (are you able to/are you allowed to?) She could never/was never allowed to go out with her girlfriends I’m free. I can do whatever I want Knowing how to eat is highly important Julia knows how to win everyone’s affection The only thing he could do was honest work (S)he had never been able to decipher it/(S)he’ll never be able to decipher it

(1) No poder (por) menos de means the same as no poder evitar + infinitive: no podré (por) menos de decírselo ‘I won’t be able to stop myself from telling him/her’. The Latin-American equivalent is no poder menos que.

320 Auxiliary verbs (2)  Idioms with poder: no puedo más, estoy harto ‘I can’t go on, I’m fed up’, al menos en ese terreno la vida no ha podido conmigo (CMG, Sp.) ‘in that area at least, life hasn’t got the better of me’, con esa estatura no hay quien pueda con él (MS, Mex., dialogue) ‘with height like that (i.e. with him being that tall . . .) no one can get the better of him’. (4) Saber means to know a fact or skill: sé la respuesta ‘I know the answer’, sabías dónde estaban ‘you knew where they were’, sé ruso ‘I know Russian’, sé cocinar ‘I know how to cook’. Conocer means ‘to be acquainted with’, e.g. conozco a tu primo ‘I know your cousin’, yo no conocía Buenos Aires ‘I didn’t know Buenos Aires’; its other meanings should be sought in a good dictionary.

25.2.2  Preterite and imperfect of poder and saber The preterite of poder often means ‘to manage to’ (but see note 2), and the preterite of saber usually means ‘to find out’ as opposed to ‘know’, although it can mean ‘was able to’. The imperfect of poder means ‘was able to’ but does not give us further information. The imperfect of saber means ‘knew’: No pudo escaparse (S)he couldn’t escape (. . . didn’t manage to) No podía escaparse (S)he couldn’t escape (no information about    whether (s)he eventually did) No me pudo ver porque yo estaba ocupada (S)he didn’t get to see me because I was busy No podía verme porque estaba siempre ocupada (S)he couldn’t see me because she/I was   always busy Yo ya sabía la verdad I already knew the truth Cuando supe la noticia de tu éxito . . . When I heard the news of your success . . . Esa noche también traía mis copas I was pretty drunk as well that night and   y nunca supe bien qué pasó (ES, Mex.,    I never really found out what happened    dialogue. Sp. . . . llevaba unas copas   encima y. . .) Me miró con una expresión sobria y grave He looked at me with a sober, serious    que no supe descifrar (JM, Sp.)    expression that I was unable to decipher (1) In those areas where the perfect of recency is used, e.g. Spain, Bolivia, Peru, haber sabido can also mean ‘to realize’, ‘to find out’: no he sabido que era campeón hasta la última vuelta (racing driver in El Periódico, Sp.) ‘I didn’t realize I was the champion until the last lap’. (2)  Strangely, the affirmative preterite form of poder can also mean the opposite of ‘manage to’, i.e. ‘could have done but didn’t’. See 25.2.3c. (3)  ‘“Can you see the stars?”’, ‘“I can see them”’, etc., are usually expressed —¿ves las estrellas? —Las veo. No lo/le puedo ver may mean ‘I can’t stand him’ as well as ‘can’t see . . .’.

25.2.3  Poder to express possibility and suggestions Poder is usually translated by ‘could’ or ‘may’. Either the imperfect or the conditional can be used: (a) Possibility/suggestions Lo que podíamos/podríamos hacer es tirar este What we could do is to knock down this   tabique   partition wall Creo que esta/ésta podría ser una salida I think this could be a dignified way out    digna para todos (JV, Mex., dialogue)    [of the problem] for everyone Puede/Podría/Podía haberle ocurrido algo Something could have happened to him/her

25.2  Poder and saber ‘ to be able to’/‘to know how to’


Pudiera could also be used for podría, but it is less usual in spoken language. (b)  Polite requests The conditional is more usual than the imperfect in polite requests, but both are heard: ¿Podría/Podía usted abrir la ventana? Could you open the window? —¿Podríamos hablar con ella? —le ‘Could we talk to her?’ I asked him   pregunté (JV, Mex., dialogue) ¿Podrías/Podías decirle al jefe que estoy enfermo? Could you tell the boss I’m ill/sick? (c)  The affirmative preterite indicative form may often express something that could have happened but didn’t: El día que pudo haber estallado la Tercera The day World War III could have   Guerra Mundial   broken out . . . pensando en lo que pudo haber sido y no . . . thinking of what might have been   fue (JM, Sp.)    and wasn’t El hombre que pudo ser Presidente The man who could have been President   (Excélsior, Mex.) But it can, paradoxically, also mean ‘could and did’, as in pudo abrir la puerta ‘(s)he managed to open the door’, Félix lo saludó y solo/sólo pudo retener una impresión (CF, Mex.) ‘Félix greeted him and only managed to retain a (fleeting) impression’. The negative preterite means ‘couldn’t and didn’t’: no pudimos conseguirlo ‘we didn’t manage to get it’. (d)  The imperfect indicative (not the conditional) can also be used to reproach somebody for something not done in the past. The preterite can also be used: Me lo podías/pudiste haber dicho You could have told me Podías haber puesto algún adornito de You could have put up some Christmas   Navidad (CRG, Sp., dialogue)    decorations (2)  Puede ser, podría/pudiera ser, podría/pudiera haber sido are equivalent to ‘it could be’, ‘it could have been’; pudiera is less common in the spoken language: aun en el caso de que nuestro viejo profesor se hubiera muerto, que bien pudiera ser . . . (CMG, Sp.) ‘even if our old teacher had died, which could well have happened’. In answers, puede ser can be abbreviated to puede: —¿Vas a pescar mañana? —Puede/puede que sí ‘“Are you going fishing tomorrow?” “Perhaps/Maybe . . .”’. (2) For the use of poder que with the subjunctive, see 20.3.5.

25.2.4  Poder used in speculations As in English, poder can be used to speculate about something: ha llamado alguien. ¿Quién puede/ podrá haber sido/ha podido/habrá podido ser? ‘Somebody called. Who could it have been?’, podría ser/ podría haber sido/puede haber sido tu tía ‘it could be/could have been your aunt’.

322 Auxiliary verbs

25.3  Deber and deber de 25.3.1  Deber to express obligation Deber + infinitive translates ‘must’ in the sense of ‘obliged to’, ‘ought to’: Su hijo debe trabajar más si quiere aprobar Your/His/Her son must work harder if   el examen (in Latin America pasar un    he wants to pass the examination   examen is common and is heard in Spain) Hubo un verano en el que el marido debió There was a summer when her husband    ausentarse de más por razones    had to be away more often than usual   profesionales (JM, Sp.)    for professional reasons ¿Quién debe manejar las finanzas hogareñas, Who should manage the home finances   el hombre o la mujer? (La Jornada, Mex.)   the man or the woman? (1)  Important: deber de should not be used to express obligation. ?Debes de hacerlo ahora sounds bad for debes hacerlo ahora ‘you’ve got to do it now’. This mistake is not uncommon in popular speech on both continents and even in writing, cf. si desea hacer alguna rectificación en la libreta ­electoral, debe de acreditarlo con documentación (Peruvian official document) ‘if you wish to makeany change in the Electoral Register, you must provide documentary support’. This use of deber de is common in colloquial speech everywhere. See the next section for the standard use of deber de. (2) Tener que can be used instead to strengthen the obligation, i.e. tienes que trabajar ‘you have to work’, tuvieron que intervenir ‘they had to intervene’. See 25.3.4. (3)  The degree of obligation is reduced by using the conditional or, less often, the-ra form of deber. Since the imperfect is often colloquially used as a conditional (see 17.5.4b), deberías hacerlo, debías hacerlo and debieras hacerlo can therefore all mean ‘you ought to do it’, although debieras is more literary.

25.3.2  Deber (de) to express probability or supposition Deber de can only express probability or supposition, although deber alone is nowadays also constantly and increasingly used with this meaning: Debiste (de) llegar tarde You must have arrived late Debe (de) haber sido muy bella She must have been very beautiful Deben (de) ser las cinco It must be five o’clock Se te ha roto el vestido por detrás, sí, sí, Your dress has got torn at the back, yes, yes,    has debido de engancharte en un clavo   you must have got caught on a nail   (RC, Sp.) En verano debía de ser una bella alameda In summer it must have been a fine   (LS, Ch.)   tree-lined avenue Debieron de haber abandonado su base They must have left their base before   antes de que comenzara el ataque (AH, Mex.)    the attack began (1) As stated above, the modern tendency is to use deber both for obligation and supposition as in debió ser vergüenza (JMa, Sp.) ‘it must have been shame’, tiene arañazos en el brazo izquierdo, que debió hacerse al caer (MS, Mex., dialogue) ‘he’s got scratches on his left arm that he must have got when he fell’. This use of deber without de for suppositions is now so widespread that the NGLE 28.6k accepts it but prefers deber de for suppositions.

25.3  Deber and deber de


(2)  Mexican Spanish constantly uses haber de to express suppositions. See 25.4.1b. (3)  Like ‘got to’ in English, tener que can also indicate a strong supposition. See 25.3.4.

25.3.3  Preterite, conditional and imperfect of deber The preterite expresses something that should have been done; the negative something that should not have been done. The conditional and the imperfect express something that should be done. Debió decírtelo antes (S)he ought to/should have told you before Debía/debería decírtelo antes (S)he ought to/should tell you before No debiste hacerlo You shouldn’t have done it En ese momento debí desconfiarme, At that moment I ought to/should have    pero no lo hice (JI, Mex., dialogue. Sp.    been suspicious, but I wasn’t   debí desconfiar) Volvió al sitio del que nunca debió salir He went back to the place he should never   (EA, Sp., dialogue)   have left Debieron llamarla PDUSA, no PDVSA They should have called it [i.e. Venezuela   (Rebelión, Ven.)    Oil Inc.] PDUSA, not PDVSA (1)  But when it is used to express suppositions, the preterite of deber may also indicate an assumption or guess so strong as to be a virtual certainty: lo que ella les dijo debió (de) convencerlos, ya que al día siguiente le dieron cien mil dólares ‘what she told them must have convinced them since they gave her 100,000 dollars the following day’.

25.3.4  Tener que Tener que expresses a stronger obligation or supposition than deber. It is very common on both continents: Tienes que formatear el disco duro Te guste o no tienes que arreglar ese   coche (ES, Mex., dialogue) ¿Por qué tuviste que contarles todo? Tiene que haberlo hecho Marta Tienes que estar loco

You have to format the hard disc/disk Like it or not, you’ve got to fix that car Why did you have to tell them everything? Marta must have done it (supposition) You’ve got to be crazy (supposition)

(1)  The preterite indicates an obligation actually carried out: tuvieron que comprar un televisor nuevo ‘they had to buy a new TV set’ tells us that they bought it; tenían que does not tell us whether they did or not. (2)  No tener más remedio que is a variation of tener que often used in everyday language to expressvery strong obligation: no tengo más remedio que despedirlo/le ‘I’ve got no choice but to fire him’.

25.3.5 Deber, poder and tener que: alternative construction with­compound tenses Deber and poder allow a variety of constructions in compound tenses, i.e. tenses based on haber and a participle. The option of pronoun shifting (discussed at 14.3.4–5) multiplies the number of possibilities:

324 Auxiliary verbs Ha debido hacerlo/Lo ha debido hacer Debe haberlo hecho/Lo debe haber hecho

(S)he must/should have done it

Ha podido hacerlo/Lo ha podido hacer Puede haberlo hecho/Lo puede haber hecho

(S)he could have done it

Habían podido hacerlo/Lo habían podido hacer Podían haberlo hecho/Lo podían haber hecho/

They could have done it (before)

Habría debido hacerlo/Lo habría debido    hacer/Debería haberlo hecho/Lo debería   haber hecho (debiera can be used for   debería here)

(S)he ought to have done it

Ha tenido que hacerlo/tiene que haberlo   hecho/lo tiene que haber hecho

(S)he must have done it

and also habría podido hacerlo, podría haberlo hecho, etc. ‘(s)he might/could have done it’.

25.4  Haber Haber is for forming compound tenses, e.g. he visto ‘I have seen’, habían vuelto ‘they had returned’. This is discussed at 18.1. (1) Haber with the special present-tense form hay, is not an auxiliary verb. It is used to translate ‘there is’, ‘there are’, ‘there were’, etc., as in hay cincuenta ‘there are fifty’, hubo una explosión ‘there was an explosion’. This is discussed at 34.2.

25.4.1  Haber de In Spain haber de is nowadays faintly archaic, at least outside Catalonia. It has the following uses: (a)  It expresses obligation or future certainty: He de hacerlo cuanto antes I have to do it as soon as possible Si su compañía tiene bancos de datos que If your company has data banks that    han de ser accesibles desde varias    are to be accessed from several sites   sedes . . . (computer magazine, Sp.) Hubo de repetir el experimento (JM, Sp.) (S)he had to repeat the experiment las dos tendencias, centralista y federalista, the two tendencies, centralist and    que habían de marcar la historia de    federalist, that were to leave their   Colombia (Promocomercio, Col.)    imprint on Colombian history (b)  It may express probability or suppositions: Ha de haberle dicho todo (usually debe (de)   haberle dicho . . .)

(S)he must have told her/him everything

This construction is rather literary in Spain but it is very common in Mexico and Central America, e.g. para terminar, el capitán ha de haberse quejado de su soledad. Serafina ha de haberlo compadecido (JI,Mex.) ‘eventually, the Captain must have complained about his solitude. Serafina must have taken pity on him’; Spain debió (de) haberse quejado, debió (de) haberse compadecido de él.

25.5  Querer


(c)  In the conditional or imperfect forms it translates an indignant or mystified ‘should . . .’. This usage is normal in spoken and written styles: ¿Por qué habría/había de ofenderse si yo no Why should (s)he get offended if   dije nada? (or, more colloquially,    I didn’t say anything?   iba a ofenderse) ¿Por qué habría de acusar a Samuel? Why would I accuse Samuel? (1) Catalans sometimes use haber de in Castilian to express obligation since their own language uses haver de to mean ‘must’, or ‘should’.

25.4.2  Haber que (hay que) Haber que means ‘to be necessary to . . .’. In this construction, the verb is used only in the thirdperson singular. The present-tense form is hay que: Hay que darles tiempo One has to give them time/It’s    necessary to give them time No había que hacer autopsia (GGM, Col.) There was no need to do an autopsy Hubo que llamar a los bomberos It was necessary to call the firemen    (implying ‘and we did’) Hay que estar loco para viajar de noche You’ve got to be crazy to travel by bus   en camión (MS, Mex., dialogue. In Spain    at night   ‘bus’ is el autobús and el camión means   ‘lorry’/‘truck’) (1)  One should not put an object pronoun before haber que, i.e. one says hay que hacerlo but not ?lo hay que hacer. The latter construction, criticized in NGLE 28.6s, is heard in popular speech in certain areas. (2)  Haber que is used only in the third person, for which reason a following reflexive pronoun should also be third-person: hay que levantarse ‘we’ve got to get up’, hay que lavarse las manos ‘one has to wash one’s hands’. Person-mixing, e.g. ?hay que levantarnos ‘we’ve got to get up’, ?había que decidirnos ‘we had to make up our minds’ should be avoided, though it occurs in popular Mexican Spanish (NGLE 16.4j).

25.5  Querer 25.5.1  Querer means ‘to want’ and ‘to love’ Querer means two things, ‘to want to’ and ‘to love’. In the latter meaning it can only refer to humans or pets. One can only say me encanta nadar ‘I love swimming’, me encanta/adoro el helado de vainilla ‘I love vanilla ice-cream’. Cf. quiero a mis hijas ‘I love my daughters’. Amar indicates very deep love, e.g. love for God or between persons in love: hay que amar a Dios ‘one must love God’, te amo ‘I adore you’, yo amaba todo (Espronceda, nineteenth-century poet) ‘I loved everything’.

25.5.2  Querer in the meaning of ‘to want’ In the present tense, this verb should cause English-speakers little trouble: quiero ir a Paraguay, ‘I want to go to Paraguay’, no quiero que vayan solos ‘I don’t want them/you to go alone’. Querer que requires the subjunctive whatever its tense.

326 Auxiliary verbs (a)  The imperfect of querer simply means ‘wanted’ and does not tell us about the outcome: quería hablar con José ‘I wanted to talk to José’ (and may or may not have done). (b)  The preterite of querer is peculiar in that out of context it is ambiguous. It may mean ‘wanted to and failed’: quise hablar con José ‘I wanted/tried to talk to José (but didn’t)’. But in other contexts, and less commonly, it may mean ‘wanted to and did’, especially when the speaker is being very assertive: lo hice porque quise ‘I did it because I wanted to (and that’s that!)’, me casé con Federico porque quise (JRIG, Mex., dialogue) ‘I married Federico because I wanted to’. (c)  The negative preterite form usually means ‘to refuse to’. Compare no quiso hacerlo ‘(s)he didn’t want to do it’ and didn’t, and no quería hacerlo ‘(s)he didn’t want to do it’ – ((s)he may or may not have done it). It can also imply ‘didn’t mean to’ when something unintended happened: no quise ofenderte ‘I didn’t mean to offend you’. (d)  The -ra imperfect subjunctive form can be used for the conditional: no querría/quisiera volver a nacer ‘I wouldn’t like to be born again’. The imperfect indicative can also be used instead of these two tenses in polite enquiries or requests: querría/quisiera/quería hablar con el director ‘I would like to speak to the manager’.

25.6  Soler and acostumbrar Soler translates the idea of ‘usually’, ‘to be used to’. It is used only in the present and imperfect tenses. Los zapatos de tacón alto suelen ser incómodos High-heeled shoes are usually   uncomfortable Solía hablar solo He used to talk to himself Suelen disparar uno o varios tiros al aire They usually fire one or several shots into   (MS, Mex., dialogue)   the air (1)  Acostumbrar a may be used for soler when habits or customs are involved, so not *acostumbra a llover en abril for suele llover ‘it usually rains in April’, which is not a custom or habit. Cf. no acostumbro a/no suelo salir por la noche ‘I don’t usually go out at night-time’. Acostumbrar (no a) used to be usual in Spain and is still used in Latin America: se dirige al rancho de un morador, donde acostumbra pernoctar (MVLl, Pe., Sp. rancho = choza, casucha) ‘he makes for the hut of a local inhabitant, where he usually spends the night’, las recepciones que acostumbraba organizar (JV, Mex.) ‘the receptions he used to organize’. (2)  In some spoken varieties of Latin-American Spanish, notably in the Southern Cone, saber is used for soler: sabe levantarse a las ocho for suele levantarse a las ocho ‘(s)he usually gets up at eight’. This usage is popular or provincial and it is not found in Spain.

25.7 Translation of miscellaneous English modal verbs: ‘would’, ‘shall’, ‘will’, ‘got to’ (a) ‘Would’. This may form a conditional: ‘it would be better’ sería mejor. Important: in English narrative or story-telling, ‘would’ often means ‘used to’ and it must then be translated by the imperfect: ‘every morning he would leave/he left/he used to leave at seven’ todas las mañanas salía a las siete. This use of English ‘would’ must not be translated by the Spanish conditional tense.

25.7  Translation of miscellaneous English modal verbs: ‘would’, ‘shall’, ‘will’, ‘got to’


(b)  ‘Should’. This usually means ‘ought to’, in which case the conditional of deber is the translation: ‘this should work now’ debería funcionar ahora. In older English, it may mean the same as the conditional ‘would’ ‘I should/would be very angry if you did it’ me enfadaría mucho si lo hicieras. (c)  ‘Ought to’. The conditional or imperfect of deber is the likely equivalent: ‘you ought to eat less fat’ deberías/debieras/debías comer menos grasa. When it refers to the past, the preterite of deber is a common translation: debiste hacerlo antes ‘you ought to have done it sooner’. (d)  ‘Got to’. This may imply a strong obligation: ‘you’ve got to work harder’ tienes que trabajar más. In both American and colloquial British English it may also express a strong supposition: ‘it’s got to/must be a lie’ debe (de) ser mentira/tiene que ser mentira.

26 Personal a The main points discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • • • •

Use of personal a before direct objects referring to living things (Section 26.2) Me trató como a una reina, etc. (Section 26.3) Personal a before pronouns (Section 26.4) Personal a before personified nouns (Section 26.5) Personal a with tener and querer (Section 26.6) Personal a before collective nouns (Section 26.9) Personal a before non-living direct objects (Section 26.10) Use of the preposition a with miscellaneous verbs (Section 26.11)

26.1 Personal a: general The use of the preposition a before certain kinds of direct object is so important in Spanish that it deserves a special chapter. The basic rule is that identified or particularized human and most other animal direct objects are preceded by a, e.g. vi a tu hermana ‘I saw your sister’, conozco al secretario ‘I know the secretary’. Compare vi tu coche ‘I saw your car’, comiste una naranja ‘you ate an orange’ (non-human). However, ‘personal’ a is an inaccurate term since the same a also sometimes appears with nonliving direct objects, especially, but not only, whenever there might be doubt about which is the subject and which is the direct object in the sentence.

26.2 Personal a before direct objects denoting human beings or animals Personal a is required before a direct object which denotes a known or identified human being or an animal such as a pet or some other familiar creature. Before a direct object which is a personal name or title—Alberto, el jefe, mamá—personal a is never omitted: conozco a tu madre ‘I know your mother’, vi a Mario y a Elena ‘I saw Mario and Elena’, no aguantan al nuevo jefe ‘they can’t stand the new boss’. *Vi Mario y Elena is not Spanish. With animals, use of personal a depends on the extent to which the creature is humanized. A named animal such as a pet is likely to take personal a, but in other cases use of a depends on factors of emotion or context: the more familiar the language, the more likely the use of a. At the zoo, one could optionally say vamos a ver a los monos ‘let’s go and see the monkeys’ but, probably, vamos a ver los insectos ‘let’s go and see the insects’, monkeys being more loveable than cockroaches. Clinical or scientific language would naturally use personal a much more sparingly. In the following examples personal a is obligatory except where indicated: No conozco a Feliciano Llevó a las niñas al zoo Jamás volvieron a ver a Amado ni Trini (DES, Mex. Sp. . . . ni a Trini)

I don’t know Feliciano (S)he took the girls to the zoo They never saw Amado or Trini again

26.3 Personal a with nouns linked by como


No me importa que encuentre al o a los I don’t care whether you find the   asesinos (LS, Ch., dialogue)   murderer or murderers Admiran mucho al cámara (cf. admiran la They admire the cameraman a great deal  cámara ‘they admire the camera’) ¿Quieres pasear al/el perro? Do you want to take the dog for a walk? Dejad/Dejen de atormentar al/el gato Stop tormenting the cat Compare the following sentences in which the object of the verb is not individually particularized: Busco un marido que me ayude en la casa I’m looking for a husband who will   help me in the house No conozco un solo farmacéutico en todo I don’t know a single pharmacist in   Bruselas (ABE, Pe., dialogue)   the whole of Brussels Veía un chico que jugaba en silencio (ES, Arg.) I saw a child playing in silence Los universitarios eligieron una reina The university students elected a   de belleza (IA, Ch.)   beauty queen Matar periodistas no mata la verdad Killing journalists does not kill  (Excélsior, Mex.)   the truth Utilizaron un pastor alemán para el They used an Alsatian/German   experimento   shepherd dog for the experiment (1) Important: for the sake of brevity, in this chapter ‘human direct object’ includes pets and other familiar animals. (2)  Students will come across much inconsistency affecting the rule that unidentified direct objects do not take personal a, e.g. utilizaron a un perro lobo . . ., matar a periodistas . . ., veía a un chico . . . Such variations seem to depend on the extent to which the speaker identifies the objects. The GDLE,Chapter 28, notes that with some verbs personal a is used quite systematically with unidentified persons: encarcelaron a un narcotraficante ‘they jailed a drug-pusher’, not *encarcelaron un . . .. Likewise insultar ‘to insult’, curar ‘to cure’, emborrachar ‘to make drunk’, sobornar ‘to bribe’, golpear ‘to hit’, odiar ‘to hate’, hacer + infinitive ‘to make . . .’. (3)  A proper name can denote the person’s work, in which case use of a is usual: estoy releyendo a Shakespeare ‘I’m re-reading Shakespeare’, esta noche interpretan a Beethoven ‘tonight they’re performing Beethoven’. However, a name may denote a non-living thing, in which case personal a is not used: van a subastar un Turner ‘they’re going to auction a Turner (painting)’, procura capturar la reina ‘try to take the queen’ (in chess), ¿quién se comió el caballo? (APR, Sp., dialogue) ‘who took the knight?’ (in chess: literally ‘who ate the horse?’). (4)  Matar is a special case: mataron (a) un transeúnte ‘they killed a passer-by’ implies accidentally without the a, deliberately with it (based on GDLE 28.2.1, though not all speakers recognize this difference.

26.3 Personal a with nouns linked by como When a noun is linked by como to a previous noun which has personal a, or to a pronoun standing for such a noun, it usually also takes personal a, although it is sometimes omitted colloquially if there is no ambiguity: Tuve que recoger a mi hermana como a I had to pick my sister up as though   un fardo   she were a bundle Usted no me considera como a un igual You don’t consider me to be your/an equal

330 Personal a Su reacción fue una de las primeras cosas His reaction was one of the first things   que delató a Adriano Gómez como a   to expose Adriano Gómez as a   un ser peligroso (JD, Ch.)   dangerous person Me trataba como a una reina (AM, Mex., dialogue) He used to treat me like a queen (1)  ?Tuve que recoger a mi hermana como un fardo sounds like ? ‘I had to pick up my sister as though I were a bundle’. But the rule is not always respected in everyday language: que te trate como una reina (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘let him treat you like a queen’/‘get him to treat you like a queen’.

26.4 Personal a before pronouns 26.4.1  Before pronouns other than relative pronouns When a pronoun refers to a human being or familiar animal it takes personal a. These pronouns include alguien, alguno, uno, ambos, cualquiera, nadie, otro, ninguno, este, ese, aquel, quien/quién, todo, él, ella, usted and other personal pronouns except me, te, se, nos, os, le, la, lo, les, los, and las. See next section for discussion of the use of personal a in relative clauses: Le quedaban unas horas para buscar a alguien He had a few hours left to find someone   que pudiese ayudarlo a entrar (JV, Mex.)   who could help him to get in La conozco a ella pero no a él I know her but not him Aunque yo no conozco a nadie de la gente Although I don’t know anyone among   que viene aquí . . . (CMG, Sp.)   the people who come here . . . Era capaz de insultar a cualquiera (S)he was capable of insulting anybody ¿A quién has visto? Who(m) did you see? ¿A ese/ése es al que mencionó, no a ti He’s the one (s)he mentioned, not you (1)  Pronouns like alguien, nadie, cualquiera are therefore unusual in that they take personal a even though they do not refer to specific individuals. (2)  When quien means ‘anyone’ or ‘no one’ it does not take personal a: ¿a quién llamaste? ‘who(m) did you call/phone?’ but no tenía quien le ayudara/ayudase ‘(s)he had no one to help him/her’.

26.4.2 Personal a before relative pronouns Personal a may appear before a direct object relative pronoun that refers to a human being, in which case the form of the relative pronoun will be a quien, al que or al cual (see 39.4 for discussion). The relative pronoun que is used when the clause is clearly restrictive (as defined at 39.1.2), cf. vi a varios alumnos que yo no conocía ‘I saw several students who(m) I didn’t know’ (restrictive); que does not take personal a when it is not preceded by el/la/los/las. But if it is non-restrictive, personal a is used though the difference is occasionally elusive. Informants from Spain generally insisted on a in the following examples: Tengo un profesor al que/a quien han I have a teacher whom they’ve   nombrado miembro de la Academia   appointed as a member of the Academy La persona a quien yo más echaba de menos The person I missed most Me dijiste que yo era la primera persona You told me I was the first person   a la que habías querido (ES, Arg. dialogue)   you had loved Plutón, esposo de Proserpina, a la que/a Pluto, the husband of Proserpine,   quien/a la cual robó   whom (i.e. Proserpine) he abducted la lista de personas a las que hemos molestado the list of people we have bothered   (CREA, Sp.)

26.6 Personal a after tener, querer


(1)  Important: el que or quien are obligatory in all types of clause if que alone creates ambiguities, as it quite often does when it refers to a human being: esos/ésos son los autores que siempre critican ‘those are the authors whom they always criticize’ or ‘those are the authors who always criticize’. A los que or a quienes would clearly mean ‘whom they always criticize’. (2) Personal a is rare before relative pronouns referring to non-human objects, but it is ­occasionally found: sabe que nosotros no somos como esos árboles a los que se sacude para hacer caer los frutos (SL, Sp., CREA) ‘you know that we aren’t like those trees that one shakes to get the fruit to drop’.

26.5 Personal a before personified nouns A personified noun usually requires personal a. The decision whether a noun is personified or not is, however, dependent on complex factors of context: A lo que yo temo es a la maldita casualidad What I’m scared of is damned random   (ABV, Sp., dialogue)   chance Se iba feliz a su casa para no seguir He went off happily to his home so as   desafiando al azar (GGM, Col.),   not to go on tempting fate Los cazas llevan bengalas para confundir a The fighters carry flares to confuse a   un misil dirigido   guided missile Bien sabes cuánto temo a los huracanes You well know how scared I am of   (PJG, Cu., dialogue)   hurricanes (1)  The last three examples show how certain verbs, e.g. admirar ‘to admire’, confundir ‘to confuse’, criticar ‘to criticize’, insultar ‘to insult’, odiar ‘to hate’, satirizar ‘to satirize’, sobrevivir a ‘to survive’, temer ‘to fear’, etc., tend by their meaning to personify their object because they suggest a human-like reaction. They therefore sometimes appear with personal a even before non-living things, which explains – but does not excuse – sentences like ?criticaba a las novelas de fulano ‘(s)he criticized so-and-so’s novels’ (correct without the a).

26.6 Personal a after tener, querer These verbs may change their meaning when used with personal a: Tengo un hijo y una hija Tenemos una asistenta griega

I’ve got a son and a daughter We have a Greek maid

but Así tiene al marido y a los hijos, a base de That’s how she keeps her husband   bocadillos, latas y congelados   and children – on sandwiches,   tins/cans and frozen food Tengo a mi tío como fiador I’ve got my uncle to act as guarantor querer un hijo to want a child/son querer a un hijo to love a child/son (1)  Tengo un hijo/novio ‘I have a son/boyfriend’ does not make the direct object specific or identified, whereas Gracias a Dios tenía a mi hermana mayor, a la que sigo queriendo mucho (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘thank God I had my elder sister who I love a lot’ refers to an identified individual. If possession is not implied, tener usually takes a before human objects el fenómeno tiene ­boquiabiertos a los astrónomos ‘the phenomenon has astronomers astounded’, tiene a su novia

332 Personal a medioloca de celos ‘he’s got his girlfriend half crazy with jealousy’, no tenía a nadie . . . con quien hablar en español (DES, Mex.) ‘he had no one to talk with in Spanish’, vamos fuera. Tengo a la chicaesperandoconelcoche(LS, Sp., dialogue) ‘Let’s go outside. I’ve got the girl waiting with thecar’.

26.7  Omission of personal a before numerals Nouns preceded by a number may be unspecified or unidentified and personal a is sometimes omitted before them: Reclutaron (a) doscientos jóvenes They recruited 200 young people Bayardo San Román . . . vio las dos mujeres Bayardo San Román saw the two   vestidas de negro (GGM, Col.)   women dressed in black Solo/sólo conozco un hombre capaz de I only know one man capable of   componer esta emboscada maestra (. . . a   organizing this brilliant ambush   un hombre also possible) (1)  A clearly particularized or identified personal noun will, however, take personal a: yo conocía personalmente a sus tres hijas ‘I knew his three daughters personally’, en realidad aborrece a los dos (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘actually he loathes both of them’.

26.8 Personal a combined with dative a Ambiguity may arise when two as occur in the same sentence, e.g. ?presenté a mi marido a mi jefe ‘I introduced my husband to my boss’ or ‘. . . my boss to my husband’. The usual solution used to be to omit personal a and place the direct object before the indirect object: Presenté mi marido a mi jefe Denuncié el ladrón al guardia Mande el paciente al especialista Yo prefiero Dickens a Balzac

I introduced my husband to my boss I reported the thief to the policeman Send the patient to the specialist I prefer Dickens to Balzac

But the NGLE 34.10r notes that the tendency nowadays is to use both as and say presenté a mi marido a mi jefe, mande al paciente al especialista, prefiero a Dickens a Balzac. Ignacio le presentó a Adriana a Luis (JV, Mex. Personal a is obligatory before the personal name Luis) ‘Ignacio introduced Luis to Adriana’, pero antes de entrar en detalles . . . quisiera presentarles a ustedes a nuestros invitados (ES, Mex., dialogue) ‘But before going into detail . . . I’d like to introduce our guests to you’ (the les shows that ustedes is the indirect object).

26.9 Personal a before collective nouns Personal a is usual before collective nouns when these refer to human beings: Yo no conocía al resto del grupo I didn’t know the rest of the group . . . un paso que podría poner a Estados . . . a step which could put the United   Unidos en una posición delicada   States in a delicate position  (La Prensa, Arg.) Eso pondría en peligro a la compañía That would put the company in danger Admiro al pueblo cubano I admire the Cuban people La explosión aterró a la ciudad The explosion terrified the city Sacudió a la sociedad mexicana (EP, Mex.) It shook Mexican society

26.10 Personal a before non-living direct objects


(1)  A is normal in all the above examples, but in the following sentences Irán does not refer to people but to a place: en septiembre del año siguiente, Irak invadió Irán (CREA, Mex.) ‘in September of the following year Iraq invaded Iran’. But as so often with personal a, usage is fickle: la comunista Corea del Norte invadió a Corea del Sur en junio de 1950 (CREA, Pan.) ‘communist North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950’. (2)  Before words like país, nación, partido, movimiento, when these words refer to people, a seems to be optional: criticó duramente al/el movimiento anarquista ‘(s)he criticized the anarchist movement severely’, Luis García Meza, quien gobernó el país entre julio de 1980 y agosto de 1981 (El País, Sp., al possible) ‘Luis García Meza, who governed the country between July 1980 and August 1981’. (3) Seeing, visiting, leaving, picturing or painting a place do not call for personal a: estamos deseando ver Lima ‘we’re longing to see Lima’, esta/ésta es la segunda ocasión que visito Alemania (JH,Mex., dialogue) ‘this is the second time I’ve visited Germany’, quería pintar Toledo ‘(s)he wanted to paint Toledo’, abandonaron Madrid ‘they left Madrid’. The Academy used to maintain that a was necessary in such sentences but it now considers the omission of a to be correct.

26.10 Personal a before non-living direct objects Personal a cannot appear before a noun denoting a non-living direct object in straightforward sentences of the following kind: Mándales un texto Escribe poesía Tus palabras delataban tu derrotismo

Send them a text message (S)he writes poetry Your words betrayed your defeatism

But, despite its name, personal a is sometimes used before non-living objects. This may happen: (a)  when there is likely to be uncertainty about which is the subject and which the direct object of a verb. This often – but not only – happens in relative clauses, where the verb often precedes the subject. Una organización que protege a su coche can only mean ‘an organization that protects your car’, but una organización que protege su coche might mean ‘. . . that your car protects’: Este producto es el que mejor impermeabiliza This product is the one that best   al algodón   waterproofs cotton Es difícil saber en qué medida afectó esto a la It is difficult to know to what extent   economía cubana (MVLl, Pe.)   this affected the Cuban economy ¿Cómo afecta a tu salud el problema How does the Volkswagen [emissions]   de Volkswagen? (Excélsior, Mex.)   problem affect your health? A tres Autos y un Comercio quemaron Three Cars and Store Burnt (lit. ‘they burnt’   (Latin-American headline, strange to   three cars and a store’)   speakers of European Spanish) (b)  sometimes before non-living direct objects when both subject and object are non-living, even though there is apparently no danger of ambiguity. It seems that this occurs only in those sentences in which the subject is also the real agent of the action. In a sentence like la piedra rompió un cristal, ‘the stone broke a pane of glass’ or la novela causó una sensación ‘the novel caused a sensation’, it can be argued that the real agents of the action are the person who threw the stone or wrote the novel: piedra and novela are simply instruments and for this reason personal a is not used. However, if the non-living subject really performs the action, personal a may optionally appear before the direct object:

334 Personal a Ambos creían que los astros regían a las Both believed the stars ruled the passions   pasiones (OP, Mex.) . . . soluciones mixtas de un litro embozadas en . . . one-litre/liter mixed solutions wrapped in   bolsas negras para proteger a la ponzoña   black bags to protect the poison from the   de la luz (JH, Mex.)   light El suicidio de la muchacha . . . excitó a la The girl’s suicide . . . stirred public opinion   opinión pública (MVLl, Pe.) Este fenómeno caracteriza al norte de Escocia This phenomenon is characteristic of   northern Scotland A could be omitted in all the examples under (b). (c)  Often after impersonal se in order to show that the se really is impersonal se and not some other kind of se such as reflexive se or passive se (see Chapter 32 for the uses of se). . . . la plataforma, como se llama a los andenes . . . the ‘platform’, as they call the andén   en Inglaterra (JM, Sp.)   (of a railway station) in England En España se llamaba a la plata (Sp. dinero) In Spain they used to call the money   de los cohechos y sobornos “unto de México”   from bribery and graft ‘Mexican grease’   (OP, Mex., cf. la plata se  llamaba   ‘money was called . . .’) La inversión es indispensable si se quiere Investment is essential if one wishes to  convertir al sistema ferroviario en un   turn the railroad system into an   sector atractivo para los inversionistas   attractive sector for investors  (La Hora, Ec.) (1)  Omitting a in such sentences could cause ambiguities or an awkward sentence. . . . si se quiere convertir el sistema ferroviario could be read as ‘if the railway system wants to be converted into . . .’

26.11  A obligatory or preferred with certain verbs Some verbs always take the preposition a, e.g. agarrarse a ‘to hold on to’, asociarse a ‘to associate oneself with’, seguir a ‘to follow’, suceder a ‘to follow’, sustituir a ‘to substitute’, renunciar a ‘to renounce’, ayudar a ‘to help’, gustar/agradar a ‘to please’, etc. However, this a is usually not personal a but some other use of the preposition a: Considera que la opción más sabia es He considers that the wisest option is   renunciar gradualmente a la energía nuclear   to gradually give up nuclear energy  (El País, Sp.) Los dirigentes nacionales renunciaron a sus The national leaders gave up their positions   puestos en el sindicato (JA, Mex.)   in the union Esto obedece a unas normas de comportamiento This obeys certain norms of behaviour Le gustaba todo lo que le gustara a su He liked everything his wife liked but not   mujer, pero no que su mujer les gustara   the fact that men liked his wife so much   tanto a los hombres (MVM, Sp.) Este nuevo producto ayuda al cabello a This new product helps the hair   recobrar su brillo natural   recover its natural shine Other similar verbs are: acompañar a ‘accompany’, afectar a ‘to affect’, atender a ‘to pay attention to’, asentir a ‘to agree with’, asistir a ‘to be present at’, contestar a ‘to reply to’, contribuir a ‘to contribute to’, corresponder a ‘to correspond to’/‘to reciprocate’, equivaler a ‘to be equivalent to’, sucumbir a ‘to succumb to’, superar a ‘to out-perform’, sustituir a ‘to replace’.

27 Negation The Spanish negative words and phrases discussed in this chapter are: • • • • • • • • • • • • •

no (Section 27.2) ‘Redundant no’ (Section 27.2.4) Single and double negatives (Section 27.3) ‘anyone’, ‘anything’, ‘ever’, etc. (Section 27.4)* nada and nadie (Section 27.5.1–3) ni (Section 27.5.4) ninguno (Section 27.5.5) nunca and jamás (Section 27.5.6) apenas (Section 27.5.7) en mi vida, etc. (Section 27.5.8) en absoluto (Section 27.5.9) tampoco (Section 27.5.10) nomás (Section 27.6)

*i.e. in sentences like ‘bigger than ever’, ‘it’s impossible to see anything’, ‘why blame anyone?’, where the words in bold are translated by nunca, nada and nadie.

27.1 General Matters that cause problems for English speakers are: the use or non-use of the double negative, e.g. no lo he visto nunca/nunca lo he visto ‘I’ve never seen it/him’ (see 27.3), sentences like ¿quién ha dicho nunca eso? ‘who ever said that?’(see 27.4), and the us